WHAT WOULD JANUS DO?
WHAT A ROMAN GOD CAN TEACH US IN 2022.
2021, you got us good.
After the collective ordeal that was the onset of a global pandemic in 2020, most of us entered 2021 with high hopes. A COVID vaccine was on the horizon. Some semblance of normalcy was in sight.
But between Delta and Omicron, shutdowns and re-openings, the Capitol riot on January 6, global supply chain issues, racial injustice, Afghanistan, killer tornadoes, Kyle Rittenhouse, wildfires galore, a coup in Myanmar, the Doomsday Glacier, the Suez Canal blockage, and so much more, it was anything but a return to normalcy on a global scale.
Trickery, 2021. Trickery.
Seems we thought no year could be crazier than 2020. Seems we were wrong.
On a more personal and positive note, though, 2021 did afford me a few privileges I had been denied. My accident and subsequent spinal fusion surgery in 2019 meant I couldn’t hike or travel for many months. Once I had finally healed enough to do both of my favorite activities again, COVID hit, shutting down international travel and closing hikes and national parks. 2021, at least, permitted me to visit four new countries, and once again hike with minimal pain.
However, 2021 proved to be the year I just couldn’t sort things out internally. The year of emptiness. The year of grey. I could once again do the things I love, yet these things failed to bring me fulfillment like they did in the past.
So what, pray tell, will 2022 bring? For me? For my loved ones? For the world?
Nobody knows. Not you. Not me. Not Nostradamus. Not that guy trying to hand you a pamphlet on the street corner.
Planning for the year to come seems like a fool’s errand at this point. If I’ve learned anything these last two years, it’s that all my best-laid plans don’t stand a chance against the endless march of fate. Of chance. Of life.
New Year’s resolutions are also equally futile. According to the New York Post, the average resolution lasts until January 12. For the mathematically challenged, that’s eleven days. Those aren’t good odds.
So why celebrate the new year, anyway? Chances are, it’ll be worse than the last. Chances are, the fresh start we crave will crumble in two weeks or less.
Truth is, New Year’s celebrations have been around almost as long as recorded human history. Everyone, from Mesopotamians to Egyptians, from Babylonians to Romans, celebrated the arrival of a new year, albeit while following different calendars. More often than not, their celebrations were tied to their worship of a specific god or gods. The Romans, for instance, worshipped the god Janus at the start of each year. Janus was the god of beginnings, as well as the god of gates and doors. He held a key in his hand, and sported not one but two faces. One face looked back at the previous year, and one forward to the year to come. Each Roman was to make their first sacrifice of the year to Janus, thereby ensuring a great start to the year.
Interestingly, from the name Janus, we derive the English word January, and thereby commemorate the long-forgotten deity to this day.
If there are any Janus worshippers still out there who happen to be reading these words, I have bad news. Chances are, Janus isn’t real. Chances are, there isn’t a sacrifice you can make, or a magic incantation you can read, that will ensure that this next year will go smoothly. Furthermore, if you’re a Christian, a Muslim, a Jew, or a Hindu, your respective deities unfortunately don’t even offer any sort of promises about 2022 the way Janus would have.
However, I still believe that Janus can teach us a thing or two in 2022.
First of all, be two-faced. No, I’m not insinuating that you should be insincere or deceitful. Rather, keep an eye on the past while looking to the future. If you forget about the past, you won’t learn from your mistakes. You won’t remember what has made you who you are. Who has been instrumental in your life. However, if you don’t look to the future, you’ll lose sight of your goals and take up residence in a world of regrets, of what could and should have been. Obviously, keeping an eye on both the past and the future while being fully present in the here and now is easier said than done, but it’s a challenge that will define how we live our lives.
Second, accept the fact that in this new year, you will have to walk through some unforeseen doorways between what was and what is to come. Accept the fact that seasons change. That almost nothing stays the same. That major transitions in your life will take place whether you want them to or not. That sometimes, instead of the beginnings we long for, we are faced with endings. When we expect the unexpected, embrace what we never planned, and realize how little we can control, we free ourselves from the frustration of trying, and failing, to meticulously manage every aspect of our lives. We free ourselves to actually live life.
Third, embrace the word sacrifice. While I don’t expect you to offer figs, dates and coins on an altar to an ancient Roman god, I do believe that in this world of Instacart and Amazon, we have come to expect things in almost every facet of our lives to be a little too easy. Because of this, when the going inevitably gets tough, we tend to lose our way. Furthermore, if you’re pursuing a dream or a goal this next year, it will require work. Effort. Sacrifice. We aren’t Kardashians. We will have to work hard to fulfill our plans for this next year, and push through the roadblocks and obstacles that we will find in our path.
Lastly, celebrate. Choose happiness. Choose joy. The worship of Janus in ancient Rome at New Year’s involved giving gifts, jauntily decorating one’s home, and, of course, attending parties. Though perhaps just for a day, the worshippers of Janus chose joy. Of course, it’s a little easier to be joyful when you believe that your sacrifice will ensure you a great year. It’s more difficult to choose joy in the face of uncertainty, or even in the face of pain.
I have been terrible at taking my own advice as of late. Far too often in 2021, I’ve chosen self-pity over joy, selfishness over giving, and regret over hope. I’m not here to make any ineffectual New Year’s resolutions, but I need to remind myself that happiness is a choice. That waterfalls can still be found flowing in deserts. That sequoias rely on devastating fires to release seeds from their cones and bring life.
Solomon, the man who many called the wisest person in the Bible, after determining that everything in this life is meaningless, puts it this way: “So I recommend having fun, because there is nothing better for people in this world than to eat, drink, and enjoy life. That way they will experience some happiness along with all the hard work God gives them under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 8:15, NLT). I suspect he knew what he was talking about.
This new year, choose to have fun. Choose to spend time with the people you love. Choose to not take your life, and yourself, so seriously. Choose joy.
It’s safe to say that none of us know what 2022 will bring. We can’t control the future, as hard as we may try. What we can control, though, is our response to what comes our way. The good. The bad. The absolutely insane.
I hope and pray I can choose joy just a little bit more this next year. I hope and pray that you can, too.
Happy New Year, everyone.