A Clean Slate?
By Amy L. Newton – January 2017
Our January rituals encourage rethinking and resetting annual goals; through our resolutions we set aspirations and enjoy the ritual of fresh beginnings. We use this time of year to wipe the slate clean and begin anew. For centuries this term has marked the end and the beginning. During Victorian times, customers kept accounts on slate boards in grocery shops and taverns for their purchases. When they paid back the grocer or tavern owner on payday, their slate was literally wiped clean. School children also used slate to write their letters and figures—and then wiped it clean when the lesson was finished. A nautical derivation relied on the term, too. The course of a ship was recorded on a slate then entered into the ships paper log as the official record at the end of each watch — —slate cleaned, ready for the next watch and thus a new fresh record.
But what if the slate is not cleaned to wipe out the past—but actually to build upon our investment of time and energy that we put into every morning, every day. Though the slate was wiped clean didn’t the tavern customer pay their way? Didn’t the school child learn their lesson? Didn’t the captain move the ship forward? So perhaps January and new years and fresh starts are not so much about wiping away the past, but to appreciate all the history that got us to where we are , and then giving us a chance to make new beginnings.
Like newly fallen snow that covers our landscape and cleans and refreshes— all things look possible. But under that blanket of new soft snow are rocks and boulders that are the patterns of our lives. Areas of rough patches and yes, areas of green pastures and soft landings are the patterns under the snow form our character, define who we are becoming. Our history is chiseled and cannot and must not be forgotten. Both painful and joyful memories all have their place in our life story. All should be honored.
What are those memories we cherish, the ones that make us laugh or cry or cringe? The times we were embarrassed, the times we laughed so hard, the times we opened ourselves to love, the times we said goodbye the times we said hello? As I get older, I no longer make resolutions, as I don’t care to clean my slate. I thank the year that ended for all its joy, love and pain. I instead chose a word to guide my new year, a word to be my compass for the path I walk upon and how I greet the morning.
My life lesson may not be about wiping the slate clean it might instead be more about recognizing the patterns that lead to happiness. It might be about being more sensitive to the patterns that end in problems and either detouring or figuring out how to traverse with less pain and hurt. It might be more about recognizing and hopefully not repeating the mistakes I have made.
Can we learn? Do we always have to walk again on the paths we have already trodden? Must we fall into the same crevices? Or perhaps can we learn from our mistakes, learn from the rough terrain and strive to be healthier. Can we honor these wounds so healing begins? Is a clean slate a way to forgive and forget and to start a new? Is it a way to encourage us to live in the present? Can we relish the happiness and look at the paths that head us in this direction. Can we face a new morning with hope and grace?
My word for 2017 is ready—ready to embrace, to love, to look at the path of happiness and choose it every moment, every day, every morning. That is the slate upon which I choose to write my life story.
What is yours?
On the Pulse of Morning
“I, the rock, I the river, I the tree
I am yours—your passages have been paid.
Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
For this bright morning dawning for you.
History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, and if faced with courage,
Need not be lived again.
Lift up your eyes upon
The day breaking for you.
Give birth again
To the dream.
Lift up your hearts.
Each new hour holds new chances
For new beginnings.
The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change….
Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister’s eyes,
Into your brother’s face, your country
And say simply
— Maya Angelou