Some words are brilliant in their paradoxical in-your-face subtlety. Take the word “disease.” We don’t really think of it as being “dis” + “ease,” but the state of not being at ease is precisely the result of being diseased. And then there is the noun “INvalid,” which, when read as related to the adjective “inVALID” (i.e. “not valid”), presents a striking perspective on a perhaps latent view of people who are unable to get around on their own. So today being New Year’s Eve, I got to thinking about what it means to resolve or “re-solve.” English speakers use resolve to mean “to make a firm decision.” But to “re-solve” something suggests a do-over, an un-making in order to reexamine the components of a problem and perhaps assemble those components differently. Certainly the two ideas are related, as a person should be reflective and analytical in creating those infamous resolutions. But the kinds of resolutions made most often at this time of year seem to be of a template: lose weight, stop procrastinating, give up smoking, exercise regularly. “Re-solving” weight loss or lack of ambition or other perpetual difficulties seems more nuanced than simply deciding to add or subtract some activity from one’s life. To “re-solve” is to treat that difficulty not as a personal deficiency but as a puzzle, one that has a number of solutions and may even be meant to be intriguing and illuminating in its complexity.
The Latin root solvere from which resolve is derived has as its primary meaning “to loosen, untie, free up, melt” (from Wiktionary). We use that meaning in chemistry when we create a homogenous mixture by diluting one or more ingredients into a solution, like creating salt water or bleach. And yet, at the New Year, our resolutions are designed to do precisely the opposite–that is, they attempt to attack a complex problem by tightening and hardening it into a simplistic and rigid “goal.” Perhaps the saying “Resolutions are made to be broken” derives from the premise that “re-solving” something must necessarily involve freeing up and loosening the assumptions that have lead to the problem.
I’m perfectly comfortable with the idea that I’m off-base here, but as I near 40, I’m more interested in sifting through the litter of 30+ years of broken resolutions to learn more about myself rather than to beat myself up. I’ve reached a point where I would rather look at myself as an intriguing puzzle than as perpetually flawed and in need of immediate improvement.
I remember panicking when I turned 29, because in my mind, age 30 was when a person was truly “grown-up:” mature spiritually and emotionally as well as physically. I knew that the 12 months I had until I reached 30 would never be enough time to become the person I thought I would be at the end of three decades of life. I resolved that age 40 would NOT take me by surprise, and I set some goals to reach by that time, among them learning Sign Language, becoming a Master Gardener, and being physically fit. I now have less than 18 months in which to make those goals–set nearly ten years ago and four children ago–a reality. And I’m finding that, while I believe those objectives to be worthy and Good, my almost-40 self is more interested in “re-solutions” than in resolutions. That is, I want to re-solve, to re-examine, to look anew, test and try and enjoy the journey rather than to work on wedging myself into a mold in the name of achievement.
Happy New Year!