Belfast Telegraph

Why the question we need to ask ourselves is how to get more out of life

By Nuala McKeever

January of course is named after the two-faced Roman god Janus. One face looked back and the other looked forward. Which is something we all tend to do rather a lot of at this time of the year.

Tax to pay, no funds after Christmas, dark days, long nights, off the drink or at least cutting back and nothing to brighten the gloom except for maybe the prospect of spending every Tuesday evening learning Spanish, woodwork, Tai Chi, Tai Kwondo, Thai head massage, cookery, baking, sewing or basic car mechanics, part one, at a local night class.

Right now we're like Van Morrison - dwellers on the threshold.

Old's not quite left, new's not quite arrived. This halfway house is where I've been living for a year or more. One foot in the grave and the other pawing the ground, trying to get purchase in the real world again.

To be alive. That's the purpose of life. To be alive. Not just surviving, but alive. And to know it. To inhabit your own self fully, to experience yourself as loved, worthy, entitled to have your own thoughts and opinions, deserving of support and happiness.

Never mind presents - to be present, that is the greatest gift of all. Like hunger as a sauce, being alive in your own skin transforms the world from a scary, grey place to be got through, back into a wonderful, colourful garden of promise and interest.

The most wonderful thing to wake up with in the morning isn't a new TV or an iPad or even another human being. It's curiosity. A desire to be in your own life. The alternative - plodding along behind a glass wall feeling numb, cut-off and isolated - that's a slow death.

This time of year symbolically is all about change. We turn a big corner from one calendar year into the next. We get the chance to be re-born, re-invented, whatever way we choose. It's a second chance. Or in my case a 50th chance.

As I've said before, symbolics are important. Why else did we all rush around like blue-bottomed flies in the days leading up to last Thursday trying to meet up with friends and family, as if the world was going to end on Friday? There's just something symbolic about the date of Christmas. It's a BIG DAY and we pull out all the stops to put down markers around it. To connect and stand up in the darkness of winter and declare, "We are here! We are still here! We are alive!"

To anyone who's going through the darkness in their heart, I want to say: "Take heart, this too will pass. It will." As I look back over 2014 I'm grateful for all the people who were patient with me in the hard times. Who didn't turn away when I felt I couldn't keep going on about how sad I was. Who let me be sad and lost without trying to "fix" me.

None of us needs fixed. And it's still good to be reminded, even if you don't believe it at the time, that the awful times do lessen and there is a corner around which you will turn and there will be a new view and you will get to it when you're ready and there's nothing "wrong" with where you are right now either.

Life is for the living. Here's to a happy, curious New Year.

With politics, the devil's in the detail

A politician dies and meets St Peter at the pearly gates. "Before you come in you have a day to go down and check out Hell, to be sure you don't want to go there," says Peter.

The politician descends to Hell. The sun's shining, it's all green and lush with golf courses and lovely food and drink and everyone's happy.

Twenty-four hours later he ascends and says, "I'll go to Hell thanks, it's great!" St Peter takes him back down.

He goes in and it's a grey wasteland where everyone's miserable. "But yesterday it was great, what's happened?" St Peter says, "Yesterday we were canvassing. Today you cast your vote."

The challenges of a festive birthday

I always feel a little sorry for anyone who has a birthday around now.

Their specialness always gets a wee bit lost among the general toasting and roasting and everyone having a great time.

It's a case of "Happy Birthday! Here's your present!

"And what did you get me?!"

So, for one person whom I love very much and whose birthday is today, here's a special mention.

Happy Birthday BBC! (no, not that one).

Your pressie is hidden behind the most relevant DVD on the shelf.

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