I shall confidently make one prophecy for the coming year: most New Year’s Resolutions will be broken by the time the first flowers of spring burst into bloom.
January takes its name from Janus, the Roman god of door and gate. With his two faces, one facing forward, one looking back, Janus could both view past events and see forward into the future. In 46 BC, when Julius Caesar introduced a new calendar to better reflect the agricultural seasons, the leadoff spot suitably went to Janus. So, if we turn out to be two-faced in both making and breaking our resolutions, we may justifiably cite precedent.
The problem lies not with us. Our self-made promises for the New Year are, in themselves, laudable things. As New Year’s day arrives, why not make a vow to change some aspect of oneself? By all means, let’s face the chill blasts of January with the warm and soothing prospect of an improved self.
No, the problem is a structural one, having to do with resolutions, which come in one of two kinds. There is the abstinence resolution, in which we vow to forswear some bad habit: like drinking, gluttony, and being late for work. The problem with these resolutions is that, once fulfilled, we are where we should have been in the first place; our strenuous resolve has landed us at the norm: an improvement, to be sure, but scarcely thrilling. We have climbed to ground level.
The second kind of resolution is action-oriented. We promise to start exercising, eating better, spending more quality time with the family. Resolutions such as these do not break so much as evaporate. As soon as we pass up the gym in order to catch up on Facebook, take the first bite into a cheeseburger, miss a child’s dance recital due to work, the resolutions—commandments once boldly chiseled onto the tablet of our conscience—dissolve into a pile of psychic rubble.
Taken individually, both kinds of resolutions float separately in a kind of existential void. Worst of all, each leaves us solitary in our pursuit of self-improvement. Who notices when we bend or break a promise made in haste at the New Year’s approach? Indeed, no one is paying much attention, save our consciences—and God, who has seen this sort of self-betrayal many times before.
What New Year’s resolutions need—what we need—is a way to keep faith with ourselves, achieve our goals, have fun, and have something tangible to show for our efforts.
For 2010, I propose a revolution in resolutions. It is in the garden where our dreams of self-betterment can come true. The garden provides a delightful and serene setting where you can live up to your hopes for the year, enjoy the company of your family, and reap a harvest of benefits. Here, your resolutions will literally bear fruit.
In a recent survey, our company, W. Atlee Burpee, asked respondents to cite their top New Year’s resolutions. The seven most frequently cited are getting more exercise, eating more nutritiously, losing weight, saving money, spending more time with the family, reducing stress, helping the environment.
Eureka! The answer is at hand. The best, surest way to fulfill all these resolutions is to be found in the garden. Nothing nebulous about tending to a garden in your own back yard.
Here resolutions grow into delicious vegetables, nutritious salads and serenely beautiful and fragrant flowers.
In your garden you escape the futility of the treadmill, your exercise bringing new pleasures, plucked from the vines and pulled from the soil, and welcome discoveries of floral display. Extraordinary savings grow in the garden as well, as you reap a bumper crop of savings together with a priceless array of flavors. The garden offers a one-of-a-kind opportunity for the family to be creative and productive, and have fun. Think of it as space in the home—or at your community garden—dedicated to addressing all seven resolutions.
America’s thousands of new gardeners are rediscovering a magical realm where—amid the flourishing vegetables, blooms, herbs and fruits—we grow into better people. 2010 is growing to be a great year.
The above appeared in a shorter version in the Op/Ed section of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on December 29, 2009.