The end of the year naturally promotes reflection and recapitulation. It is an embedded custom in our society. Likely it stems from that arbitrary commercial undertaking – the “Annual Report” – designed to assess the general strength of an enterprise over what is considered a reasonable period of time to allow for mercurial dips and spikes. The practice has since been extended from the mundane business vernacular to popular media to include an examination of the personal lives of famous people. Even if the close-up is diluted by a reference to a difficult childhood or an occasional failure, the celebrity under the microscope generally comes up looking pretty good. On the contrary I suspect most of us would agree that turning the spotlight on one’s self or one’s friends or relatives is assured to be far less glamorous whatever the circumstances. Or is it?
Even though I obviously speak for myself, I wager that all of us haven’t far to look to discover some pretty amazing people within our immediate orbit. Those people are not likely billionaires, movie stars or media gurus. But their achievements are frequently no less worthy of attention and praise. In some instances the accomplishment is getting through some terribly serious surgery, whether a brain tumour, kidney transplant or cancer. For the person who faces the dreadful subject of death and who suffers these incredible trials it is unfortunately often the result of the surgery (not the perseverance of it) which dominates the assessment of the task. I say it is unfortunate because it is unmistakeable that some surgery (if indeed not most) entails repercussions which include physical and economic loss. For example, child bearing may no longer be an option; there may be disfigurement; employment or livelihood may be diminished or lost. To appraise the success of the misadventure on that basis does not however capture the overwhelming triumph of the person to have endured the horrid experience.
Other equally worthy feats include the survival of a marriage dissolution, the loss of a spouse or child, the loss of employment or the loss of one’s life savings. In each instance the loss is catastrophic. For those of us who haven’t had to meet such acute deprivation it is virtually impossible to appreciate the extent of the damage inflicted but it requires very little consideration of the event to be touched by its magnitude.
Too often the assessment of success is directly related to how much money someone makes. This is hardly flattering when you recall that the manufacturers of Kleenex and Ketchup do very well in that department. Surely a person’s success must depend on more than its financial quotient.
Quite apart from medical challenges which are for the most part entirely random, I have great sympathy for people who have encountered potential ruin and defeat at their own hands. There are some observers who would be less generous with so-called culprits where the cause of the loss is technically one’s own fault. But I still view this situation as fateful. It is in my opinion a grievous presumption to imagine that any one of us is spared such destiny merely because of our innate perfection. It is impossible to fathom what drives a man to risk his good name for shallow causes. If the fellow can somehow rise above the paralyzing dismay of it all, then I say he is to be commended. If nothing else we haven’t the right to make ourselves taller by standing on others whatever the reason.
All this is to say that sometimes just living is enough of an achievement and any New Year’s obsession with improving ourselves may be quite unnecessary. This isn’t of course to suggest that we haven’t room for change. But I think if we spent more time thinking about what we have accomplished than where we have failed we might find we’re a great deal closer to perfection than we thought. Happy New Year!