As a writer and artist, symbols are my daily companions. Symbols are powerful. New Year’s Eve is a special sort of time, when even those who may not look for symbols do so almost unconsciously. A new year is a new beginning. Whether we will it or not, at this place on the calendar change IS upon us. And so the power of the New Year’s resolution: we pause to reflect, to think ahead, to assess. What has been. What is to be. What shape we hope the coming year to take. Resolutions are wishes that we make upon ourselves. Whether we keep them or no. There is power here at the cusp of the year. So I’ve been thinking about this sort of thing, even more so than usual, and looking for a special symbol. A word can be a symbol. Words are my tools. I’m reaching for one of those.
Once upon a time (March 1850, actually) the sailing barque Ptarmigan was renamed HMS Resolute. Its refitting included extra-strong timbers and a polar bear figurehead. (Note to self: what happened to this figurehead?) This ship was one of those sent out as a relief vessel to find and succor the lost Franklin Expedition. Or at the very least, to discover what had happened to these men.
The Resolute was eventually trapped in ice. After a long winter, the ship was prepared as best as the crew were able, and then abandoned in her icy bed. Two years later, the ship was discovered, adrift, by an American captain. The Resolute was purchased by the US Congress, restored, and returned to England as a gift of goodwill. (It was also hoped by some that it would be used to search again for Franklin and his men, but this never happened … too much evidence existed that the men had perished.)
The Resolute served as part of the Royal Navy in local waters until being retired and broken up in 1879. Fans of Nic Cage (one of whom is resident in my house) know well what happened next to some of this wood: Queen Victoria had at least three desks made from the remains. One she gave as a gift to U. S. President Hayes, “as a memorial of the courtesy and loving kindness which dictated the offer of the gift of the RESOLUTE a gesture of international solidarity.”
This desk has been used by most of the U.S. presidents since, either in the Oval Office or a different study.
Symbols are powerful. This desk is, note above, a recognition of the courtesy and loving kindness of the United States. As a country, as a people, as individuals: we are flawed. But we can, and have, manifested courtesy and kindness.
Rather than making resolutions this year, I am adopting a word: RESOLUTE.
Oxford Dictionaries definition for RESOLUTE: admirably purposeful, determined, and unwavering.
HMS Resolute did not succeed in its primary mission. But along the way, its crew rescued and provided shelter for another ship’s crew who had been stranded and on short rations for over a year. Abandoned itself, the Resolute remained upright and largely intact until it worked free, and then was recovered, claimed, and cared for. It made its way home, where it continued to serve; after its useful lifetime it remains still as testament to cooperation and kindness. There is much that is dark in our history as a nation, but this too is our legacy: generosity, outreach, compassion.
Each of us are facing any number of challenges this year. I don’t know yours, but I can see some of what lies ahead for us as a nation. And I most definitely see some of what awaits me personally in 2017. Some of it is going to be amazing. Some of it is going to be excruciatingly painful, because life has its path and its pattern and some things are unchangeable. There are opportunities here: to crack under the pressure, or to withstand, and continue. To become more.
I will celebrate the warmth in the world. I will celebrate, not because of conflicts, but in spite of them. I am purposeful, determined, and unwavering. I will do what is in my power and, when I can do no more, I will still stand. And I will stand FOR something.
I am resolute.