observations and opinion
New Year’s Day, 2015
Somewhere on the planet, you waited up for – or you woke up to – the New Year.
In my spot on this sphere the New Year began as a very cold night and now, in the pale early morning, a delicate veil of snowflakes swirls slowly downward. A robust furnace and a bag of coffee beans make for good companions. Right now it is quiet. Very shortly the rest of the day will unfold– footsteps hammering down the stairs, conversation, the toaster, slabs of bacon in the pan, the dull glow of phones in our faces; soon the day will begin.
Before the silence and the eggs are broken, a question: why does New Year’s Day matter?
The cranking of the calendar from one date (December 31st) to another (January 1st) has little inherent meaning. It is, as I was reminded last night, an “arbitrary” choice of occasion to celebrate. Sure, but even if it has absolutely no sentimental or other significance to you New Year’s has become the collective birthday of the world, if only through consensus habit.
Arbitrary as it may be, January 1st has been stamped as the first blank page in the book of our lives. That can be an exciting or, if we are honest with ourselves, a daunting prospect. Ask a writer or an artist what a blank page means to her and she will tell you: it is infinite possibility, it is the chance to do something great. Or it is the place to fail. It is what fear looks like. The blank page mocks you as you stare at it mute. The blank page is a high, fierce wall of white rock. Will you just stand there, or will you step up to it, press your fingers into the cracks and pull yourself up?
That is what New Year’s Day is – an arbitrary, imaginary starting line.
Our imaginings are as fragile and fleeting as the snowflakes falling outside my window. These moments are unique but soon melt away. We can let them pass unnoticed, in a blur. But we don’t have to. We can catch the snowflakes on our mittens and study them. What we imagine, what we let ourselves feel – some idea, some spring of hope or restless longing –is part of who we really are. No less than our hands or our boots in the snow, no less than all we have accomplished or all that we owe to others, what we imagine is also in some small way, real. Whether it lives outside the skin or not, it is true.
Within a few minutes or hours, what was born as a New Year will become This Year, predictable as the stairs we climb, the halls we walk, the desks we sit at, the shops we stand in. The starting line will disappear somewhere behind us. That will happen. Before it does, before we strut or stumble forward into the familiar, before it all just becomes another day or week or year, why not stand still, look and listen? Why not imagine how we want to treat others and be treated? Why not give ourselves a moment to imagine what we want to do, who we might become, where we truly are and where we might yet go?
Even if we can’t climb the fierce, white wall of rock, let’s carve our names on it. If only to show that we once were here. Let’s make a mark on the blank page. That’s what New Year’s Day is, or could be. If we let it be.
I hear footsteps upstairs. Time to cook the bacon.
Happy Birthday, world.