Over the years, New Year's has evolved into one of my favorite holidays.
For the vast majority of my life, Christmas has been my absolute favorite holiday and it was nearly impossible to imagine that any holiday could ever begin to come close to the magic, mystery, and joy of the Christmas Season. Long after I ceased to be a real child, I continued to delight in seeing Christmas through the eyes of a child but as I matured I also grew into an ever more nuanced understanding of the larger meaning of Christmas. I adore all of the trappings of Christmas (the lights, caroles, foods) but most of all I cherish the season for its real magic -- the ability to wash over most people and gentle them... lull them into miraculous moments of more peace and less rancor, more charity and less self-absorption, and the commitment, if only for a day or two, to be more gentle with one another -- even if that only means a smile where otherwise a snarl would have been the norm.
Of course, I'm also sadly aware that for millions of people Christmas is a time of enormous stress, a greater awareness of absence and loss, and increased depression and anxiety. To be honest, I've had my full measure of each of those negative and very painful feelings as well. At this point in my life, Christmas is as melancholy as it is joyful -- it evokes bouts of depression as easily as it produces moments of unbridled joy.
Santa is a Christmas metaphor for life. Santa, like Christmas itself, delivers us both sweetmeats and lumps of coal... the only difference being that for millions the coal is undeserved.
Which brings me to New Year's Day. New Year's Day is a both a Victory Celebration and a Promise for the Future. It represents the satisfaction of having survived and the possibility of re-invention and renewal.
I know the relief of witnessing a particularly bad year quickly recede in the rear-view mirror of life on New Year's Eve. Some years were particularly hellbent on killing me; I've known years I barely survived physically and/or emotionally intact.
The blessing of my life, however, is that far more times than not Providence has been gentle with me. I now try to live each day spiritually grateful for the astounding blessings that have protected me from sometimes great evil, as well as my own colossal failings.
The year I now say farewell to has been extraordinary in many ways, ways that I will ponder, measure and weigh, dissect and struggle to describe for sometime to come. Typically, at the end of each year I tend to recall the immortal opening line of A Tale of Two Cities and ask myself whether the passing year was "the best of times" or "the worst of times." I think I'm comfortable saying this past year has been more "the best of times" than the opposite -- and for that I am immensely grateful.
However, if 2011 has been a brutal year for you please know it grieves me greatly. Your suffering is never far from my mind and if you follow my political bloggings elsewhere you will know this is true and not speciously stated.
Know also that there is always the Promise that the New Year will become your best of times.
This is why New Year's Day, a celebration that is universal around the world, that transcends religion, culture, and nationhood, is now my favorite holiday. It is the most inclusive celebration possible; no one had to be born or die to create it, no war or revolution fought to justify it -- it merely represents the rebirth of a cycle -- a measurement of time, a measurement of your life. With each New Year you are handed a new blank page, a new pallette, a new glimmer of hope.
When William Faulkner accepted his Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950 the world seemed (so what else is new?) a very dark place. WWII had been won but nihilism and anxiety abounded; the Cold War with its seemingly ever-present threat of nuclear annihilation permeated the soul of men.
Faulkner addressed this despair in his Nobel Prize Speech in Stockholm, Sweden, December 10, 1950, when he said "Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only one question: When will I be blown up?"
Speaking specifically to young writers of his day he continued:
"Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat. He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid: and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed--love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, and victories without hope and worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands."
Then this genius of the written word, this master of the human condition, went on to offer this eternal hope:
"I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet's, the writer's, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail."
To those of you who, like me, serve humanity with a talent to write, I ask you to ponder Faulkner's words. Let us all commit to writing words that serve as "the pillars" that help us all "endure and prevail."
To those of you who may not serve humanity as writers, I know that you serve the world with your own God-given gifts and Faulkner's words are as true for you as they are for those of us who write. Whatever it is you do, no matter how majestic or humble, know that you too can be a pillar to help us all "endure and prevail."
Together we might be able to make 2012 a gentler, kinder year for many and that is the beauty of being allowed to take one more crack at life... that is the beauty of a New Year.