A New Year’s tradition
On 31st December 2005, I found myself home alone getting ready to ring in the New Year with just my (grumpier than usual) cat for company. As a fifteen-year-old who aspired to a social life I didn’t have, this was the height of what I considered “lame”. I commiserated by sitting down and venting my frustrations through writing (nothing’s changed there) and how glad I am that baby Rachel didn’t have plans that night because, unbeknownst to me at the time, this was the start of a tradition that continues to this day, and one I hope will last my lifetime.
There’s something about the New Year that always fills us all with hope of better things to come; a new lifestyle, a new diet, a new dream, a fresh start. And as a teenager, I couldn’t get enough of this idea. The first New Year letter I wrote to myself is filled with thoughts and concerns typical of a teenage mind, one that hasn’t yet become aware of how much more there is beyond her high school and her suburb and the group of people she sees on a weekly basis. It’s full of visions of a whole new person I was determined to transform myself into over the coming year. I wrote this first letter to be read by myself the same time the following year (well not the exact same time because “next year I will NOT be spending it alone like a loser”) and ended it with giant writing promising I AM GOING TO CHANGE.
The beauty of doing one of these letters every year over time, is that I have essentially painted a really detailed portrait of myself using words. I never wrote these letters for anyone but myself so I write in a completely honest way, not a shred of the self-consciousness we project onto anything we present to others, whether that be writing, photos or simply how we compose ourselves.
The more years that pass by, the more I have come to appreciate that just because the calendar flicks from one year to another, nothing changes. We don’t change, our lives don’t change… not instantly overnight, anyway. It is just one more day-change in a series of day-changes as long as our entire lifetimes, and the whole thing is a journey.
I love going back and reading my letters – the first two especially, written by a pre-Italy Rachel. My high school exchange had immeasurable impact on my outlook on life, and I have a letter from slap-bang in the middle of my exchange, which makes me smile every time. I love reading from 19-year-old me as I relished my new university lifestyle and had my mind thrown open by so many amazing people and experiences. I love reading about my time in Kenya. About meeting Jesse. About starting this very blog as a way to pursue my passion of writing. About finding a job I absolutely love and having my world changed by it. About moving to London. About moving to York. It is a beautiful documentation and celebration not just what happened in my life, but what happened around me, in my friend circles and my family; in the wider world at large.
New Year’s to me is so different than it used to be. It’s a celebration in more ways than just the one that sees us drink drinks and light fireworks. It’s not a time to promise myself the world anymore, but to step back and reflect on the world I already have. How grateful I am for it. What an epic ride it’s turning out to take me on; the good parts and the bad. It’s a time to take a second and commit to paper a snippet of the things that occupy my thoughts, the people who occupy my days and the places that have occupied my year.
I said I only ever wrote these letters for myself, but in the spirit of New Year’s and appreciating the journey, I decided to share some of the more entertaining or eloquent snippets below. Happy New Year’s everyone… may your ongoing journey be bright.
“I’m writing a letter to a person who doesn’t actually exist yet. I mean, obviously I exist because I’m writing this to myself, but the person I’ll be when I read this in a year from now will be completely different from the me I am now. I don’t even know her. Or you? Or me? Ahh confusing.”
“Be grateful for the life you’ve got. Live it to the best and fullest you can, not just for you, but all the people that never could before you and all the people that are yet to come who never will. I know how heavy and dramatic this all sounds but I just want to remind myself in case I forget. I’m scared that this time next year I’ll just be bumming along… moping about Sicily and wanting to come back. Just remember I can come back when I’m older… I will always have ties with this place that can’t be broken.”
“I think it would be really cool to read something like this if my mum had done it. It’s a sort of freaky thought, that one day this very sheet of paper could be in the hands of a child of mine… someone who doesn’t exist yet but who would be such an important part of my life.”
“I don’t want to look back on 2009 and the person I was and critique it all, and list what I want to change… that’s refreshing!”
“I’m a fantasist – I’m constantly dreaming in my head, but from now on, that’s not going to be the only place my dreams will exist. There’s no reason I can’t turn them into a reality. Stop waiting for experiences to come and find you... go after them. Take responsibility for your ambitions and ownership of your dreams.”
“For the first time since I started this tradition of mine, I am actually home on NYE. The 15-year-old who started this tradition would be horribly disappointed in me. This time though, I don’t mind being home. Everyone’s away… Muz in Wanaka, Lauren in Coromandel, Emma in Venice, Brynne in Scotland, Jesse in Texas.”
“Time isn’t something I attempt to really understand or control. It is what it is and that – in my opinion – is contradictory and confusing. It’s liberating and binding at the same time.”
“Make life better for each other rather than worse. I want to do everything I can to demonstrate this. Just in everyday life, wherever possible. Even at work, how I treat people. It makes a difference. Even Monty. This may seem ridiculous but I make his life better than it otherwise would be; I make him happy. Some would say it’s not life-changing but, really, it is. It is to him. It won’t go down in history books… in 50 years no one will know or care about some random girl in Auckland who loved her ginger feline but he cares now; it matters to one living being and that’s worth something. Little things… they count.”
“I think everyone continues their unique process of evolution, but I am now who I will always be. I will no doubt go new places, see new things and meet new people, but I’m me. I don’t mean that in a bad or boring way… it’s not to say the adventure stops here (it’s only just begun!) but when you read this at the end of 2014 (in London with Jesse, I hope!) I don’t wish for you to be different. I wish for you to just be happy.
Having just arrived in London: “obviously I’m excited by the adventure, but I can’t really picture what my life will look like here, what my routine will be, who I’ll spend time with. I feel like my life in London is a blank canvas and I have all the colours possible to paint with, I just have no idea what I’ll create yet. When I read this, I’ll have a life that doesn’t quite exist yet but is just around the corner.”
“Know that 2017 was a year the world opened its doors to me – I travelled to four continents and my mind and heart were opened in the process. It was a wild attack on my senses and beyond that it enriched me so much. I feel so lucky to see how beautiful this planet is in its diversity. If I never do as much travel in a year as I did in 2017 I will not despair – I will just be so grateful for this year.”
“In the foreword to Obama’s novel, Dreams from my Father, he writes, ‘I might have written a different book – less a meditation on the absent parent, more a celebration of the one who was the single constant in my life.’ He writes of his mother, and I want to take a second to write of mine. Reading back, I almost couldn’t believe how absent she was from each and every single letter I’ve done despite being there always. Jesse too, after the year in which I met him and he was An Event. I think it is because – with both of them – they’re so solid, so constant, and so central to my life that they forgo mention. Mum has been there, behind these letters and absolutely unwavering, since the day I was born and I don’t want the lack of her name in them to suggest otherwise. Jesse too is a constant and my greatest source of happiness. How do I even write what he is? He is everything. He is my home. (OK, cheese over. Scoff.)”