Sweet Honey From Old Failures: A New Year’s Post

Events that seem to be surrounded by expectation confuse me, and trigger that fear that I am a few steps off from everyone else.  Not a truthful fear, but a common fear nonetheless, and one the world does little to soothe for any of us.  New Year’s Eve is one of those events for me, for a variety of reasons.  One is that the only thing that has ever made me willing to stay awake until midnight was childbirth. 

Also, social events that last many, many hours, like New Year’s Eve gatherings, are just too much human contact for me.  If you are invited to something that starts at 7:00, you’ve got at least 5 and a 1/2 hours to get through, and I can count on 3 fingers the number of people who I could bear to spend that much uninterrupted time with.  But I think it’s the resolution issue that confuses me the most: to resolve or not to resolve, that is the question.

New Year’s resolutions don’t feel inspiring or motivating to me, but that’s not the real reason I don’t like them.  I don’t like them because they are weirdly clichéd activities that I worry don’t really mean anything.  And they seem to be built on “things I didn’t do well enough this year and need to improve on,” as opposed to “things I feel really excited to pursue.” 

In other words, the underlying source is disappointment or perhaps a sense of failure, as opposed to a sense of opportunity and joy.  Of course, this is just my perception; there may in fact be loads of people who feel inspired by the chance to make resolutions.  It won’t hurt my feelings if those of you stop reading now.

Thinking about this has put me in mind of other things that we do and say that seem like clichés, things that seem to come from a sense of helplessness instead of firm conviction.  Most of what comes into my head in this area are the ways we try to explain difficult situations to ourselves and each other.  For example, we say things like, “When God closes one door he opens a window,” “we are never given more than we can bear,” “everything happens for a reason,” “there’s always a silver lining,” and “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” 

I don’t really doubt the elements of truth in these sentiments (except the last one; my personal experience is that what doesn’t kill you leaves you terrified, exhausted, self-doubting and diminished in hope.  But not all clichés work for everyone).  I do see that some of these statements are indeed true, and I lean more towards believing them than doubting them.  Some are sort of comforting.  What bothers me is that, like most overused language, they lack inspiration.  They’re like tires that have slowly deflated–flat, empty, useless at best, problematic at worst.  They diminish instead of enliven, which is exactly the opposite of what language is supposed to do.

Words are meant to inspire, intrigue, clarify, connect; to provide a sense of freedom when we feel that all is closing in on us, and to touch us where we really live.  This is one of the reasons why I believe that poetry is a life-saving, blood and guts endeavor. 

A poem I was lucky enough to rediscover last week is the perfect example of this, especially concerning this particular topic.  It’s by the Spanish poet Antonio Machado (1875-1939).  It’s called “Last Night As I Was Sleeping,” and I wanted to talk to you about it.  Here’s the first verse:

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a spring was breaking
out in my heart.
I said: Along which secret aqueduct,
Oh water, are you coming to me,
water of a new life
that I have never drunk?

Not to diminish this passionate poem to my small world of concerns in this post, but here’s something that strikes me about this verse:  New Year’s resolutions?  No.  “Water of a new life that I have never drunk?”  Yes!  Yes to something that inspires and intrigues, and places us in relationship with the world that we may not rationally understand, or certainly not predict, but that offers the mysterious, surprising joy of a spring, of new possibilities, breaking out in our hearts.  Oh, yes. 

Here’s the second verse:

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.

“I’ll do better next year.”  “I’ll make more of an effort with…(fill in the blank activity).”  “I’ll ignore the fact that I never succeed with…(fill in the blank).  “I’ll ignore everything that isn’t working with my life.”  NO.  A beehive in my heart, where those industrious bees who need absolutely nothing from me except to allow their presence in my heart, will make sweet honey from my old failures?  That my failures are mine, and are worth something, and can be transformed from bitterness to sweet nourishment?  A resounding YES. 

The third verse:

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a fiery sun was giving
light inside my heart.
It was fiery because I felt
warmth as from a hearth,
and sun because it gave light
and brought tears to my eyes.

Trudging through the rest of the winter, feeling cold and dark both inside and out, doubting the guidance of my own heart, fearing what might happen if I felt and listened to that heart, keeping my eyes closed because I am afraid to see things that might cause them to fill with tears?  No.  Trying to believe, even if just for seconds at a time, that my heart is a fiery sun, and sunlight is a form of power, of energy, of love that passes all understanding?  Yes.  And again, yes.

The final verse:

Last night as I slept,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that it was God I had
here inside my heart.

Denying my spark of divinity, saying no to a relationship that is my birthright?  No, no, no.  Knowing that a dream is not just a dream, not just “a marvelous error,” but source of knowledge that the rational brain has no right to dissect, believing, if only for seconds at a time, that if I invite love into my heart, that is all I need to do for it to come?  Yes, yes, yes.

If I were the resolution-making kind, all I would claim to try to do is this: to make my heart a welcome place for secret springs to break out, for golden bees to make sweet combs of white honey from my failures, for a sun to catch fire, and for God to enter and help me to do the work I am called to do.  And this seems less like a resolution, and more like a prayer.

I wish you all joy, open-heartedness, connection, energy, and love in this new year.  I wish you absolutely everything you could possibly need to become more of who you are, because that’s what our world needs.  And I hope you’ll come back so we can share some of that together.  Remember, we all belong, and there is always a place for you here.  Happy New Year.

6 thoughts on “Sweet Honey From Old Failures: A New Year’s Post

Add yours

  1. I feel the same way about New Years! What a sweet blessing your post is this morning as I read it in the NEW year. I spent my evening peeking out of the blinds at the party across the street; counting cars and people gathering on the porch enjoying their drinks and the weather. I was invited to this party but spent the night at home with my husband (who went to bed at 9) my daughter (we watched a movie together until I feel asleep on the couch…waking up for the occassional car count) and my son and his girlfriend (watching a different movie in the basement.) As cars gathered for the party I (for once) didn’t feel like I was missing anything. I have everything I need. At one time this would have seemed like a pitaful way to spend New Years. Last night felt so freeing for me! I LOVE the poem you shared and the way it spoke to you. IF I make 1 New Years resolution it will be to start reading poetry. Thank you for putting a hunger in my heart for that. I think you are well on your way to doing the work you are called to do.


  2. Wow! Thank you, this poem will substitute for the term “New Year’s Resolutions.” I have no baggage around the term, but you are right, it is a cliche. My parents never spoke of resolutions. I learned of them as an adult.
    Sweet Honey from old failures-it is a magical and healing idea. Did you know that honey can be used as a balm for certain wounds? I also do not believe that things happen for a reason unless one is really literal and things happen for bad or tragic reasons. I hate that cliche as well as the one regarding God not giving us more than we can handle. I believe that I have had much more than I can handle so much so that I was transformed into a different person and I do not know if I am a better person for all that I have been given to “handle.” But I am not who I once was. I once resolved to sleep late on rainy days and I always try to keep this resolution. Resolutions for me are not simply about correcting a fault or filling a lack but care of the self, the wounded and transformed self, whoever that may be. Thanks again for your words, Leslie.


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