Columnist J.M. Sorrell: A New Year in three parts

  • Fireworks explode from the roof of the E.J. Gare Parking Garage during First Night, Tuesday, in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Published: 1/2/2019 9:08:10 AM

Many of us reflect on the past year and project goals for the coming year when a new calendar year arrives. I usually feel the new year in September, given the numerous colleges and universities in western Massachusetts. It also coincides with my birthday and Rosh Hashanah. A new year triad.

This year, I am more focused on going from 2018 to 2019 than in previous years. The urgency I feel is both personal and political, and I am considering 2019 in three parts that overlap and do not happen in any particular order.

The first part is, cliché and all, self-improvement. I plan to lose 25 pounds and to get in better physical condition through weightlifting and strength-training. As I age, strengthening muscles is as important as walking and getting in cardio shape. I was an athlete much of my life, but it is too far behind me now. I would like to say, “I am an athlete” again.

I will develop more patience and equanimity in situations where it serves me and others. Refraining from judgment in traffic would be a big step forward for me. This is part of my “Tikkun Middot” journey — intentionally cultivating positive character traits in a reflective practice.

Discernment about how I spend free time is a priority. For me, it is a blend of conscious reading and more lighthearted entertainment in the form of concerts, travel and films. Dog walks are the best.

The second part is how I help and serve others in my everyday life. There are always new ways to apply one’s self in this regard. Applying the patience from Part I is my own personal intersectionality. And perhaps I can do more in less time when I am lighter on my feet with a higher metabolism! Then I can have more of that frivolous free time. But, wait, I am getting ahead of myself. Patience.

One kind act each day towards another — friend or stranger — not only serves the recipient, but it also aids in self-care. I have studied, taught and written about empathy, and I am sticking to my story that engaging in empathy is key to understanding one another and acting with kindness. I find special benefit when I am struggling with being treated poorly or unfairly or when I am simply having a bad day. Reaching out to help someone else is the best tonic.

Part III requires thinking and acting way beyond ourselves, and I saved it for last so you would not run screaming out of the room as you put down the paper and exclaim, “Enough!” This is the part where we are each responsible to serve the world at large. Tempting as it is to go to sleep at 6 p.m. and sleep in until noon, we have to function each day during these tumultuous times.

Tikkun Olam is the Hebrew phrase that means repairing the world. I am inspired by an actual organization called Repair the World (werepair.org). They are active in many cities where thousands of volunteers intersect with social and economic justice organizations to make the world a better place. I love the story of Laura Bratkowski, a French Culinary Institute-trained pastry chef, who made and sold 300 pies for the Pittsburgh chapter. When asked about her donation, she said, “I was raised Catholic. But to me it doesn’t matter — Jewish, Catholic, whatever — as long as your heart is in the right place.”

For starters this year, I am participating as a volunteer workshop leader for the Resistance Center’s annual MLK Day events in Northampton. I will host workshops for the Sojourner Truth School for Social Change Leadership in the winter, and I will volunteer in many ways for the annual Noho Pride march.

This “repairing the world” business may be local or global. It involves acting beyond a circle of family and friends to extend one’s self to our communities at large. The smallest contributions are often significant examples of leadership.

Remember, apathy is defeat. Participation is victory.

Healing is the common theme to my 2019 three-part plan. I will report on progress and challenges in a future column. Peace to all.

J.M. Sorrell is a social justice trainer, an anti-racist activist and an optimist who believes in the human capacity for growth and goodness. She has served as a wedding officiant for nearly 15 years. 777 weddings and counting!



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