Difficult. Maddeningly difficult. At times so laborious and so very difficult that many postpone them indefinitely or never attempt them: beginnings. Beginnings of things. Especially if these "things" are a demand for a tax declaration, a pompously announced sports offensive or a telephone call loaded with significance. Even if in the last case, one only needs to seize the handset. And that really doesn't weigh anything nowadays.
Why is the thing with the "beginning" so often a drama without end? I have been asking myself this for quite some time and have lovingly tossed the thought around in my head -- for hours if need be -- knowing that I could also use the precious time to just get started. Absurd, isn't it? Especially since I have gotten to know myself quite well over the years. Because I know how satisfied one feels afterwards. This pleasant warmth of the small pride that spreads because I have accomplished something despite the imaginative excuses and inner resistance. Done. Checked off. Or maybe -- finally beginning. Nearly always -- no - always, a minuscule to medium contentment spreads. That alone should be incentive enough for me to welcome the daily beginnings of my life, to embrace them and to meet them head on. At least when it comes to normal tasks. Contentment is the little sister of happiness. The sum of many of these contentments leads me along the right path, doesn't it? The one which we all somehow want to walk along in this life. What happens then if I dare the next step and have a go at the big changes? Then I increase the length of my stride or my speed towards happiness many times over, according to the philosophers of math. Can I count on it?
As I search for answers I cannot avoid the wisdom of the really clever people. Hermann Hesse says in "Steps" "Magic dwells in each beginning which protects us and helps us to live."
Magical beginnings. Hmm. Sounds good. But it's easy for him to talk, I think. Tell this to somebody who has to do a monster-move to a city 600 kilometers (372 miles) away. Alone. He stands between unpacked boxes and doesn't know how that's going to be done by the day after tomorrow. Or somebody who has to lay off 30 people -- among them fathers and long-term employees who won't find employment anywhere else. Or a patient whose "beginning" starts with a stay in a hospital and probably will also end there. I am skeptical if Hesse's words lend themselves to cases of hardship. And besides, it is doubtful if all beginnings are really the same.
In my opinion, they aren't. There is a difference to want to move or to have to move. To want to stop smoking or to have to. To want to be a vegetarian or... You get the idea. "Self-elected" or "externally-determined," these are the spices which make the after-taste sweet or bitter. Beginnings that are sprinkled with symbolic powdered sugar don't require much effort or strength. Instead, anticipation, enterprise, curiosity and lightness predominate -- naturally. There it is: the magic in the beginning. It didn't really hide, it was easy to find. It is the rich diet that affects the spirit and the guts. And yet -- like a task that has to be done -- it doesn't get tastier the longer one stares at it. Therefore, close your eyes, open your mouth and down it goes -- rather quickly. So that eventually even the most indigestible fare disintegrates. And then, magic -- or stomach pains?
One might still need a detour in the mind. What is so unpleasant or even painful about big beginnings that lie in wait for us, especially if we have not yearned for them, is the loss -- to admit that something has been lost. It doesn't matter if it is sickness or other catastrophes -- we lose the conviction to be invulnerable. Something valuable is lost, which I only learned to appreciate when it was gone forever: the basic trust in life that everything is good. And that in spite of the fact that the elders have always told me, and maybe you too, "You can wish for it as often as you want. But nothing remains the same." To hear something like that while you are doing marvelously is frightening. To hear the same words in a crisis gives courage. Because just as the sunny days don't last, those with hailstorms are numbered also. A law of life, probably.
That means one must get used to the thought of constant change. Be ready for beginnings. Remain flexible, despite fond routine (an extremely challenging endeavor for me). You know there are people who complain about their routine. They are always looking for new kicks, variety, thrills. Every day a surprise? I don't need it -- call me the chairwoman of a fan club for "Praising the Routine" inc. Customary patterns and familiar environments give me security and the feeling of knowing my way around in my life. And trust. Yes, a piece of the lost trust comes back. Monotony is the enemy lurking behind the corner. But I'll shove him aside with a seasoned swing of the hip. With pleasure every day. My very own kick.
As much as I love routine, this awareness helps with the fickleness of things, when life suddenly tells you: "Everything just starting. Everything new."
"In the beginning was the word" says the Bible. "In the beginning was the deed" it says in "Faust." God is right for one, Goethe for the other. It is certain: a decision constitutes the beginning in every case. Whether you belong to the motivated "beginners" or rather with me. When you decide for or against something you are a determiner. And it is not fate. Therefore the bill is as follows: zero hour plus courage minus fear plus work plus family and friends minus setbacks plus perseverance equal...Yes, equal what? Time will tell if it is happiness. In any case -- it is a beginning. Different. And new. And precisely good.
When I continue reading Hesse, I feel that he has described the magic for those who stand in the rain wet to the skin -- without an umbrella. And certainly not because they themselves have chosen it that way. He wrote for those who need strength to risk a big beginning. But his words are true also for the small ones. And in comparison those are easy. Maddeningly easy.