Jack Antonoff is a much in-demand music producer and the lead singer of the indie pop band Bleachers. As the curtains close on 2020, I find myself reflecting on the quality of my being in that eventful year and, simultaneously, staring into the yet unknown face of the fast-approaching 2021. The outcome of this confluence has been the emergence of a certain mantra that keeps playing on a loop inside my head. It’s the simple title and refrain to the Bleachers’ song “I Wanna Get Better.”
This Christmas wish and New Years resolution for self-betterment, which only time will tell if I have the discipline or capacity for such improvement, has primarily been driven by witnessing so many good examples being set by people in my acquaintance who are doing so much better than me.
Allow me to share some of the examples of folks whom I’d like to emulate in 2021:
My friend and middle school English teacher extraordinaire Annie Head, whom I encountered in the hallway the other day as she was returning to the middle school after having contributed to the high school’s blood drive, which I did not. I wanna get better.
My wife, Julie, who volunteers her time weekly with a local food bank, which I do not. I wanna get better.
My brother J and his wife, LaVonna, who purposefully order extra food at every meal out to place in a to go container then actively locate a homeless individual to whom they present the meal, an act of kindness that never crosses my mind. I wanna get better.
My friend Kelly, who squeezes more productivity out of a single day than I’d think humanly possible, which I do not do as I loll away so many hours in front of various screens. I wanna get better.
My mom, who never lets a birthday, anniversary, funeral, or personal achievement of virtually anyone she knows pass without sending a card to acknowledge the occasion, which I rarely remember to do. I wanna get better.
My mother-in-law, who never watches a sunset sink beneath the horizon without relishing the moment, an occasion from which I am likely to look away while foolishly assuming there will be many more sunsets to appreciate. I wanna get better.
My son Tanner, who more than anyone I’ve ever known truly garners more joy from giving than receiving, while I remain a better taker than giver. I wanna get better.
My friend Steve, who in his fifties learned to play the guitar, an endeavor the like for which I use the excuse that I’m too old to learn something new and so difficult. I wanna get better.
My cousin Sheldon, whom many of you know as your favorite UPS guy, who – when wedding receptions were a thing – danced every dance like no one was watching (and he’s a good dancer), while I typically chose to sit out for fear of being judged. I wanna get better.
My neighbor Jim, who every spring edges my entire lawn without me asking, which I would never think to do unasked for. I wanna get better.
My friend Melinda, who meets every day with enthusiasm and boundless optimism and refuses to surrender to negativity or anything or anyone who tries to deflate her lust for life and spiritual bliss. I wanna get better.
My boss Pat, who seriously considers all sides of any argument or proposition before making decisions, never seeks self-aggrandizement, and always prefers to credit others for the school district’s successes, while I shallowly and addictively feed off of the praise and “likes” of others. I wanna get better.
That guy I see out running nearly every day regardless of rain, cold, heat, or snow, while I make excuses. I wanna get better.
My friend Del, who, when faced with any mechanical or home improvement issue, says, “Let’s figure it out,” while I’ll typically say, “Let’s call someone.” I wanna get better.
My friend John, a New York State Trooper and a single father, who adopted two foster children, both with special needs, while I luxuriate in my empty nest. Not sure I want to get that much better.
My friend and fellow English teacher Jim Lamb, who smiles at and says hello to everybody he passes, while I tend to wear an unwelcoming glare or choose to look away. I wanna get better.
The mere thought of making some of the changes necessary to get better causes me anxiety, but I guess at the end of the day, no matter our age, we are all W.I.P., or Works-in-Progress. How fortunate am I to have so many good friends and family members to learn from? What better time to begin learning and making those changes than the Christmas Season and New Years?
Happy Holidays and Happy New Years! May all of your Christmas wishes and New Years resolutions come true.
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