Last January I was standing in Victoria Station, London, when one of those huge advertising billboards caught my eye. It simply said ``JAN ONE''. A cigarette company was making fun (and money) out of all those whose New Year resolution was to give up smoking. I had to smile at the ingenuity behind it, but on a deeper level I was reminded how crushing cynicism can be.
With one last rehearsal before the big showdown on Jan 1st 2000, dare we hope for change? Are we doomed to carry all our personal baggage into the new millennium? This is the challenge behind the Clean Slate Campaign to be launched in March '99. It's an invitation to all of us to make at least one needed change in our lives. What we do with that brief is entirely up to us. Suggestions on `how to clean our slates' range from letting go of a hurt and forgiving someone, to being honest with ourselves and others about where we have been wrong. And at the other end of the scale, there's invariably money to be paid back, a bad habit to be dropped, or the garage to be cleared. With a little thought we'll all know what to do.
In the midst of expensive domes springing up, and rumours of Chanel No5 bubbles wafting down the Seine, this seems to me to be a Millennium initiative really worth shouting about. Why? Because it works. The experience which lies at the heart of this idea had a profound effect on my life, long before the campaign itself was even invented. The best I can do is share my story in the hope that others will accept, what has the potential to be, a very precious gift:
I like to think of myself as slightly zany, but deep down I've always been a traditional kind of girl. Even as a non-believer in my late teens and early twenties, the idea of waiting for the right man was inherently appealing... magical even.
University was tough at times because I felt like a ``square'' beside my friends, some of whom juggled several relationships at once. Then one night, the summer before final year, a friend and I went out to celebrate the exam results. I don't remember discussing it but we were definitely ``on the pull''. It was surprisingly effortless (the wine helped) and I went home with a rugby player who'd paid me a few compliments in the pub where I worked. This was risky, I knew, but I made it clear that I didn't want to have sex with him and he was happy with that.
When he didn't call the next day I began to get that sick, sinking feeling. I'd fancied him for a while and was hoping that a relationship would develop. Two weeks later I saw him at a party. He seemed pleased to see me so I thought, ``He does like me after all!'' He asked me back to his flat again. Once we got there the whole atmosphere was different. He wanted more than I was prepared to give (Why was I there if I didn't want to have sex with him?) and what ensued was painful.
The next day I was in a complete daze. Whilst I had my own brokenness to deal with, I still wanted to see him. I wanted to know that somehow I meant something to him, that I was more than just a one-night stand. When I did see him that night he ignored me. That really hurt.
My Mum would've been the ideal person to talk to because she's always been my best friend, but I couldn't face the thought of disappointing her. I was frightened our relationship would change, so I confided in friends instead. As the weeks went by, however, it became increasingly obvious that I would have to tell her. I couldn't live with myself anymore. To my amazement she reacted with the utmost compassion and understanding. The bond between us was instantly stronger. I felt so blessed.
Another university term elapsed during which time I had begun to find a real faith. Whilst home for Christmas I met the man in question at a party. He gently took me aside and said, ``I just wanted to say sorry for what I did to you.'' His apology meant more than I can say. I felt so happy and free. It was the best Christmas present I've ever had.
Baring one's soul is never easy... it can't have been easy for that guy to seek me out and apologise... it wasn't easy for me to be honest with my Mum... it hasn't been easy sharing this with you. So why do we clean our slates? I think conscience has a lot to do with it... those insistent thoughts which haunt us until appropriate action is taken. How about taking ten minutes right now (armed with pen and paper) to reflect on what needs cleaning up in our lives?
Ten minutes later. My thought was to run this article by my family before it goes to print. I was also reminded of other times in my life when I've come clean with people, be it apology or confession. What relief and euphoria followed! And you? Did any particular thought(s) come to mind? To help you follow them through, how about making the Clean Slate Promise ? Here it is: ``I promise to take at least one practical step during 1999 towards wiping my slate clean.'' And let's not restrict ourselves to `99. Why not make it a regular feature of our new lives?
As I've pondered this, the words of priest and writer Gerard Hughes have been particularly helpful. ``We are tempted to ignore our inner life because we do not like what we find there... (but) ...our treasure lies in our inner life. It is our inner life which affects our perception of the world and determines our actions and reactions to it. We tend to ignore this inner life, but it refuses to be ignored either in individual or in national life. If ignored, the inner life will erupt in some form of violence.'' Challenging stuff. So, too, is the fact that my actions impact the whole of society. An erudite professor once tried to tell me that we are nothing more than ants, and therefore not important at all. I refute that. If ``The flap of a butterfly's wings in Brazil can set off a tornado in Texas'', we've got a lot of re-thinking to do.
Laura Trevelyan, UK