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They Say You Want a Resolution ... Well, You Know...

Growing up Catholic, you make a lot of resolutions. But they don't call them that.

They're pledges — to the church, to god, to your parents. They're promises — to the Virgin Mary, to god's son Jesus, the Holy Ghost and dozens of saints, to your community. They're vows — to honor commandments, adhere to principles, strive for chastity and purity, to generally keep your soul as far as possible from the fiery pits of eternal damnation. (The "or else" is big in Catholic teachings.)

Mostly, as a grammar school kid, you make resolutions to avoid getting whacked by the nuns or being publicly shamed when you have to share some half-ass commitment out loud and don't have an adequate response.

I recall pledging my loose change to help kids in some indeterminate foreign land stave off starvation. (Was it the kids my parents and busia said were always starving in China? the cardboard collection boxes usually had an array of non-white faces, or generic shacks with crosses atop them, so there was no telling the actual destination of my dimes and nickels.) I remember resolving to make the next year more god-focused than the prior year had been, whatever that meant. I swore to swear less. I vowed to keep impure thoughts at bay, even though thinking about that vow on a daily basis often prompted a good 20 minutes of impure thoughts.

By the time I was in 7th grade, I'd made so many uncertain resolutions to do so many unfocused pursuits that I had resolved to steer clear of the before-school, 5-day-a-week morning masses, especially when the bishop was slogging away at the readings and sermons. When it was Father Shaw, and his famous 20-minute masses, no problem.

When the opportunity arose, I happily signed up to be a patrol boy, helping kids at the lesser intersections that were unmanned (unwomaned, actually) by the official crossing guard. We got orange nylon sashes to designate us as responsible beacons of crosswalk safety. We got a pass to join mass late, scooting in at the last possible moment of visibility. We got jelly donuts at the corner grocery story. And that coveted corner was the closest to my house, so the afternoon patrol got me easy access to boogie home after the last kidlet had passed.

I'm a pledge keeper. I take a promise seriously. I honor vows voluntarily undertaken to their fullest extent. But when you've promised about 12,000 things per academic year, and another hundred or so in church over the summer, resolution fatigue is a serious thing.

By the end of 8th grade, my religious promises on any subject were so open-ended they'd be considered slippery by politicians, vague by bureaucrats, and carte blanche by Wall Street traders.

Yes, I pledge to honor my mother and father in all their words that I fully hear, understand, and nod my head to while looking directly at them while dressed in anything but casual attire. Absolutely I will not take the lord's name in vain as long as that name is Jesus and not any other derivation, slang, schoolyard riff or alternative term seen on TV or read in Cracked or Mad magazines. And, yeah, I can keep the impure thoughts at bay ... while actually in church, and then only if my nascent crushes Monica or Theresa were not in direct line of sight. (Those impure thoughts at that age, mind you, mostly consisted of wondering what it'd be like to kiss a girl, or whether a bra was essentially a swimsuit top but under clothes.)

As a young adult, when family and peers started making a ritual of establishing and declaring New Year's resolutions, I opted out. No resolving to resolve. Enough with the vague promises of potential future behavior that had so many loopholes as to be meaningless.

But a goal? I like a goal. I write up lists of goals well before New Year's Day every year. I plan how to enact them. I detail how to overcome any anticipated setbacks. And I mostly succeed at achieving them.

Now tell me that isn't evolution.

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