New Year’s Revolution
I’ve never really gotten into the idea of New Year’s Day as a holiday. Sure, it’s as good a time as any to reflect on the recent past and look forward but so are days, weeks, months and seasons. For the overwhelming majority, all of these pass without even minor consideration. I’m not opposed. I just don’t get the idea or get into the idea the way a lot of people do. It seems a little arbitrary to pick a unit of measurement and mark it as an occasion. That said, I’m usually up past 12 on any given night and if I’m anywhere near a glass of scotch while somebody’s celebrating something — I’m happy to raise a glass.
It stands to reason that I don’t really make New Year’s resolutions. They, like most human conventions, are made to be broken and tend to mean little even when successful. Let’s face it — there are better ways to spend an entire year than trying to lose 10 vanity pounds and most resolutions are just a holiday approved way of saying, “…but this time I really mean it,” about things people were already trying to do all along. Managing money better, fighting with the family less, finishing a forgotten project — what happens to make us drop the ball by the end of the month? We probably stop because it stops being important. I just don’t think the one year marker is the most tangible or realistic motivator toward moving forward. I think of more real and organic moments on which I might hang a marker and commit to change — the kind of subtler moments that pass without fanfare, the kind toward which there isn’t a countdown.
One such moment was on the morning of Christmas Eve last year. I got an email about Ray Sandford’s battle to stop his own forced electroshock (ECT). The day before, he lost at the hearing he had fought so hard for — a hearing which should have restored his rights. It didn’t. Ray had hoped the coming holiday would delay his forced shock for the week. It didn’t. His shock was to be carried out on schedule, December 24th. Knowing his memory and sense would be so rocked by the ECT that he wouldn’t be able to share the holiday with family, he had tacos with his aunt the night of the hearing to celebrate Christmas.
I read that email just before heading out to get some food to take to various family events. I had two or three houses to go to that day and somewhere in Minnesota, Ray was perhaps already being escorted from his home for an electrically induced seizure — knowing his Christmas festivities consisted of tacos and a hearing that turned out to be a charade. In one moment, while driving alone, I committed myself to doing whatever I could from that day forward to help bring Ray’s forced “treatments” to an end.
It took almost a year, but Ray won his fight. He and everyone who took action in support of him have reason to celebrate. I was only one small voice in the crowd but as it turns out, it was public pressure that caused the psychiatrist who ordered the forced ECT to remove himself from the case. Ray got a new doctor opposed to forced shock and a new guardian. It worked because Ray spoke up and kept speaking up and because other people joined in — calling and emailing the appropriate agencies, informing the media, protesting, letting the local politicians know where they stand. It worked because people committed to action and stuck with it.
It doesn’t matter what number is attached to the year but maybe it does make sense to break time up into manageable chunks. Maybe we can take a little time and consider how much change we can achieve in the course of a year. Use a reasonable amount of time and consider real and achievable action. Look into current and proposed assisted (forced) outpatient treatment laws in your state. Find individual instances in which someone needs a voice or a number of voices behind them and offer yours. Look for an instance in which complacency on our part separates someone else from their basic human rights. These problems are not in short supply. Speak up, create something, destroy something, do something that matters this year, this month, this week, even today.