First things first: Happy New Year, everyone! Yesterday morning, my family and I ate a feast that my mother prepared to welcome 2017. We usually celebrate the Lunar New Year on the American holiday because that guarantees that everyone’s home for a family ritual called jae ssa, in which we honor our ancestors. My mother spends the entire day before cooking a huge quantity of food. I think the most time-consuming dishes to make are the four or so fried dishes, which require hand-dipping various meats, vegetables, and seafood into flour and egg before crisping them in oil.
After we bowed and prayed, I reflected on my hopes for 2017. 2016 was not my favorite year, both in terms of my career and personal life because I felt stuck. In academia, progress is measured by semesters, papers, and exams. In the real world, to which I am still adjusting, no such markers exist. The existentialism that plagued me recalled the mood in Philip Larkin’s “Days.”
“Days”What are days for?Days are where we live.They come, they wake usTime and time over.They are to be happy in:
Where can we live but days?Ah, solving that questionBrings the priest and the doctorIn their long coatsRunning over the fields.
Days are not just units of time in this poem, but they define our whole existence by controlling our schedules. They tell us when to “wake,” and we build our entire lives around them. We are at their mercy. And yet, despite their inevitability, the question “Where can we live but days?” reveals the human desire for change. It is this yearning, the second stanza implies, that causes suffering and “brings the priest and the doctor / In their long coats / Running over the fields.”
At one point, things became so unbearable that I started counting my blessings: my parents are still alive, I love my friends, my brother who is in the military is safe, my other brother is healthy and has a job. I went to kickboxing three times a week, and ran miles or did yoga on other days to distract myself. I meditated. I bought makeup from Sephora (I finally became a VIB member!) and binged on Youtube makeup tutorials. I kept asking myself, “Will 2017 be better?” No matter what I did or how many horoscopes I Googled, I couldn’t find an answer that would sufficiently ease my anxiety about the future.
The original headline for this post was “Why We Shouldn’t Expect So Much of 2017.” I’m not trying to be a Negative Nancy or predict that 2017 will suck as much or more than 2016, or 2015, 2014, or any preceding year ever. The point is that I have no idea what the next year will mean, both for myself as a person and as a citizen of a country that will see Trump in the Oval Office. I have no control over whether everyone I love will remain in good health, or if I’ll get a new job. I have no control. I don’t know what will happen. I don’t know the answer. And I’m at peace with that.
Change, according to the Buddha, is the one constant in a person’s lifetime. The task at hand, then, is to embrace it with an open mind. Even though I am Buddhist, it has taken a long time for me to actually internalize the Buddha’s teachings. Here are some quotes from the Buddha and other prominent Buddhists that have stayed with me:
- “Nothing is forever except change.” – Buddha
- “People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
- “Everything that has a beginning has an ending. Make your peace with that and all will be well.” – Buddha
- “Just as a snake sheds its skin, we must shed our past over and over again.” – Buddha
- “For things to reveal themselves, we need to be ready to abandon our views about them.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
- “Open your arms to change, but don’t let go of your values.” – The Dalai Lama
- “No matter how hard the past, you can always begin again.” – Buddha
We ended the day with a dinner with extended family at Byungchun Soondae in Flushing, Queens. Soondae is Korean pork blood sausage; here’s a good description of its flavor and texture. The owner is a family friend who treats us well whenever we go. We stayed for two hours, but they flew by. My cousin’s children are already in the first and second grades. My aunt asked me when I would marry. (My answer: Have you seen the NYC dating scene?) Then she asked if I knew anyone her son–another cousin–could marry. (Answer: Nope!) Spending time at the table like that brought me joy and was utterly luxurious–nothing else mattered except for the people I care about and the food I love to eat.
I’m ready to go back to work tomorrow.