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What will you put in your letter?
Dec. 26, 2011
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by Ivan Raconteur

There is something about writing my last column for the year that makes me unusually philosophical.

I started using my fresh new planner for 2012 weeks ago, but as I prepare to retire the 2011 edition, I can’t help but do a bit of stock-taking.

I have experienced some failures and setbacks in the past year, but there have been some small victories, as well.

There have been days when I leaped out of bed like a lamb in springtime, eager to take on the world; and others when I had to drag myself grudgingly from between the sheets and grind out another day in the trenches.

As I look back over the past 12 months, I experience a certain sense of satisfaction. There have been good days and bad days, but we got through all of them. We have fought the good fight, and we are still above ground and still in the game, and no matter what else happens, that has to be better than the alternative.

As a dedicated curmudgeon, I spend each week confronting the dark, seedy, superficial side of life, looking it straight in the eye and exposing it for what it is.

However, I believe in looking at the bright side of the road, as well, and paying homage to that from time to time. I see the humor in both sides, and that makes life infinitely entertaining.

Looking back at the year just passed, it occurs to me that the scary, confusing, frustrating times weren’t quite as bad as they seemed at the time, and maybe the good times were even better than we thought, because we can keep them with us forever. We can carry those memories around in our back pockets and take them out when we need a smile or a dose of reassurance.

That seems to me the sensible approach.

While we should learn from our failures, it is important to let them go and move on with our lives.

Life is like running to catch a connecting flight at a busy airport. It is difficult to reach our destination if we carry around a lot of excess baggage.

We can’t change the past (although some people do their best to alter it or at least put an interesting spin on their interpretation of it). We can, however, change the future.

That is where we should put our energy. If there are things we wanted to do in 2011 that we did not accomplish, there is nothing stopping us from doing them in 2012.

Another thing I have noticed as the year winds down is that we are seeing a lot more of those Christmas letters that people send instead of Christmas cards these days.

There was a time when I absolutely despised those letters. They are still a source of mild irritation, but I have resigned myself to the fact that they are here to stay, and have become more tolerant of them in recent years.

My opposition to these letters (which are an anathema of the yuletide season) is not so much because of what they include, which is often a cross between shameless self promotion and a sort of historical record of what the person or family got up to during the past year.

What bugs me is what they don’t include.

It is OK to write about one’s kid’s athletic or academic accomplishments, or what job changes one experienced, or what vacations one took. It is natural that people would be eager to share these things.

What I really want to know, however, is what did you learn during the past year? What have your adventures taught you? How have the things you have seen or experienced changed your view of life? How have they shaped the way you will view or do things in the future?

When I see one of those Christmas letters, I want to scrape away the surface detritus and go beyond the superficial report to see the substance below.

That, to me, is much more interesting than a simple list of the highlights of a person’s activities.

In any case, whether Christmas letters include activities or the results of activities, we are the ones who get to determine the content.

The new year is stretching out before us like a blank canvas.

Freedom is an incredible luxury, and we have the precious opportunity to decide where we will go and what we will do with the next 12 months.

As we prepare to bid farewell to 2011, we should be looking to the future and considering what we would like to write about in our Christmas letters next year. We have 12 whole glorious months to work on the material.


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