As the year flipped the next card over blinking-eye fast, and we all quick grabbed one we love for a kiss, snapped an Instagram, and tried to mumbled out the words to auld lang syne, I found myself pondering all of the unique ways we find to commemorate this event, the arrival of January 1. First, one must decide if one is "staying in"(which might involve movies, Chinese takeout, board games) or "going out" (glittery clothing, bar TVs tuned into Times Sqaure, and - if you're lucky - decent live music). January, so named as the "door" ("iuana" in Latin) to the next twelve-month go-around, and what better way to step through it than by choosing between your slippers and your stilettos?
But there's more to it than this, of course. It's been a hard year for a lot of people. Behind the ugly Christmas sweaters and brash holiday bashes, many grieve deep. You've just got to keep moving, from party to next-day brunch. If you're not careful, you might be forced to remember. This way, you can numb the old year and your fears for the new, for a few. Eat, imbibe, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.
New Year's Rulin's, 1942. Woody Guthrie.
Another possibility is to staunch your tears, take a stance, be resolute and stoic. A list of your personal "rulin's." Go on a juicing fast. Work out. Be kind. Simplify your life. Maybe you can make this happen, this year will be different. Goals are good, of course. Until you start seeing life as a collection of merit badges and you become the sum of the check marks on your list. And the whole point is you. (Or, in this case, Woody Guthrie - which actually I think is pretty darn cool.)
We humans, when confronted with the passing of a year (and a bit of own mortality?) seem to veer off violently into some variation one of these two directions: party or plan. It's not that either path is wrong - both can be legitimate means to happiness or goodness. We just have a way of overdoing it, or making it preeminent. Making our own happiness or our own goodness our - well, our god.
Paul knew this. He knew himself, and the way we all operate. In a sobering passage, he wrote that you can have knowledge of God but not treat Him as such. From his letter to the Romans: "For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, nor give Him thanks." And what happened then, when they didn't find their happiness and goodness in Him, thanking Him?
The lights went out. "They became futile in their speculations and their foolish hearts were darkened." There must be some connection between recognizing who God is and talking about Him in ways that are true - and keeping our sanity. I know how true this is for me. When I lose sight of His past deeds for me and His always-character, that is when I become most confused. I flail, speculate wildly, fumble about in the dark for my own interpretation, and wonder why it's so hard.
I happened to speak with a man who works in the school office right before New Year's Eve. We exchanged the usual niceties, and I asked what his plans for the evening were. He said, "Oh, we'll go to mass. That'll be good. And I like to just spend some time at the end of the year with my planner."
I smiled into the earpiece. That sounded like him. Our detail-loving planner who keeps a good many things running smoothly for those of us who are a bit more spontaneous and forgetful, We absent-minded professors couldn't do it without people like him.
"Yep, I like to page through," he was saying, "and pause over each day that's past and thank the Lord for His blessings." I froze. He's a "thanker", too. Only I've been a little out of practice, and his reminder was timely. I thought of my calling (our calling!) to thankfulness, to unwrapping the gifts. Christmas is nearly over - the tree is down, messy piles of boxes and presents are being tidied up, and the cookies are down to crumbs. But what better way to finish off the final few of the twelve days of Christmas to open a few more things? Essayist Andree Seu has said that the Lord waits with a good many things in the unclaimed gift department, still untouched by His children. "You do not have because you do not ask. Ask and you shall receive."
I want to see life as a gift from Him and watch it transform everything this year - from the dance floor on New Year's Eve to the convictions I carry dear for the next stretch of life's road. May 2013 be one, long, breathed-out: