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How do you resolve the promise of New Year’s Day?

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Are you glad today is the final day of 2008?

Will a new year really make a difference for you?

Does today represent anything more than the last Wednesday of the calendar year?

There’s no magic switch that will be thrown Thursday – well, unless you celebrate too much tonight and need deep silence – and none of the challenges we have faced will vanish along with that page ripped from our desk calendar or clicked off our Outlook.

Maybe you lost your job this year and still are looking for one.

Maybe you lost your home and are trying to find adequate shelter.

Maybe your pay was cut, and you’re trying to make do with less.

Maybe, worst of all, someone dear to you passed away, perhaps even unexpectedly.

When you are bearing such grave weight, no sense can be made of the date.

New Year’s Day really only ever seemed to mean a few things: a day of endless football (and many years, work), the Rose Parade in Pasadena, taking down the Christmas decorations and firming up the resolutions that wouldn’t even be addressed until Jan. 15.

But increasingly the day seems to represent a bit more.

We have new hopes and new dreams for 2009. We can look forward more easily and behind less requisitely. We can recharge and charge.

Are we in the place today that we expected on Jan. 1, 2008? For many of us, probably not. We had plans, but they were changed, too often without our input.

You remember this old saying: “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.”

But much of this is no laughing matter.

For many of us, 2008 took away people we have known and loved, people who made indelible impacts on our lives.

We lost classmates, teammates, golf mates and beloved, inspirational family members.

People we’ve known since childhood lost parents and spouses and, in the worst of all cases, children.

Grief and emptiness are not emotions we easily can defeat, but those who deal best with them seem to employ Jan. 1 to their advantage, as a simple lever to move their intense load.

They would tell you that a fresh new year brings with it new hope, a chance to shut the awful chapter of the past and focus on opportunity.

They would say they don’t hurt less, remember less, grieve any less or certainly cry less. They know their lives won’t magically become painless.

But they do feel released by time to look over the horizon in front of them rather than stare at the endless desert of despair behind.

A friend once shared her own new-year mission to get past some of the worst pain of loss anyone could conceive. She said, “A friend sent me a card that spoke to my heart. It said, ‘Imagine the possibilities.’ And that’s what I will do.”

Perhaps more than anything that’s what a new year represents: possibilities.

A few years ago, we were visiting Cat Island in the Bahamas on New Year’s Eve. This was one year after we had visited Times Square in New York and endured the masses and processes that make that spectacle both daunting and amazing.

On Cat Island, a long strip of sand with only one paved road and no stoplights, the celebration was, as you would imagine, much more subdued.

In fact, on New Year’s Eve residents didn’t celebrate at all with champagne, fireworks or even loud parties near a town square. They instead attended midnight services at their churches.

Their culture and religion – and there were several varieties – believed that the final day of the year might really be the end of time. And they wanted to spend its last hours in prayer and meditation, just in case. They saved their parades and celebration for Jan. 1.

That New Year’s Eve, almost every native we encountered invited us to church, even an old man we frequently saw carrying his Bible and walking up and down that paved road. He came by the restaurant where we had an early dinner and immediately invited us.

We declined the invitations and spent the night listening to the waves lap the beach a few yards outside our thatched hut.

But maybe church was the right idea. Maybe the Bahamians had it right. We never know when our last moment may be.

One day, there will be no tomorrow for us or someone we love.

So perhaps we should think of New Year’s Day not only as a day on the calendar but a passage in life that means yesterdays are gone and the possibilities of tomorrows are born.

We get a new shot of hope, new focus and a new vision.

And if we receive all of that, isn’t it really something to celebrate after all?

Happy New Year!

 

Steve Doyle can be reached at sdoyle@sentinelnews.com or by calling (502) 633-2526.