What is it about a new year that makes us celebrate? Between December 31 and January 1, war, disease and poverty remain unchanged. Exams still loom for the student. A hangover of extra pounds from the Christmas season can plunge the body-conscious into gloom and remorse. The next credit card statement, rife with holiday impulses lurks in the mail. Yet, we celebrate. We set off fireworks, we greet strangers with a “Happy New Year,” and we hug old friends with heartfelt joy. All because the calendar declares January 1, and the year is “new.”
We like new. I played a drawing game with friends on New Year’s Eve and the hostess bought new pencils and new paper pads. We were as excited a school kids to hold a full-length pencil with a sharp new point and an eraser unsullied by errors.
It is axiomatic that writers dread a blank page, but I love a new notebook, all the pages clean and inviting. Much as an artist thrills to a fresh pad of drawing paper, or the reader inhales the scent of a new book, the pages uncreased, the story promising adventure, romance, knowledge. Could this be the one book she has longed for all her life? It’s possible.
We like “new.” Did you know you can actually buy “new car smell,” in a spray? Even if your car is second hand, you can make it smell new. Is it pure avarice that makes us crave the new? Are we so brainwashed by advertisers that “new and improved” is our watchword?
I don’t think so. I believe “new” fills us with hope, and it is hope that drives our celebration. We yearn for a thing that is fresh, unblemished, full of promise. Perhaps we hope that “new” will wipe away the mistakes of the past. “Clean slate” is more than a metaphor for old writing tools. We long to start anew, with all the errors of the past wiped away. As Anne Shirley famously remarked, “Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a day with no mistakes in it yet.”
The writer with a new notebook hopes against all evidence that the words he writes on the page will transcend any he has written before. That, this time, he’ll find the words that truly portray the magic and glory of the tale that burns in his mind. This time, thinks the artist, the picture will capture all the truth of the universe in a curving line. The driver dreams that the new-to-him car will get better mileage, travel smoother roads and take him on incredible adventures that transform his life.
We greet the “new” with unbridled hope. We even make resolutions based on nothing more than a box on the calendar.
Inevitably, the new notebook is filled with blots and cross-outs, erasures rub a hole in the artist’s paper and the new car gets a ding in the parking lot. We’ve seen it happen again and again, and yet we hope. This time will be different.
The cynics scoff at the optimists, declaring them deluded fools for continuing to hope in the face of crushing reality. But cynics don’t sponsor refugees. Cynics don’t find a cure for cancer and cynics don’t work for peace. Queen Elizabeth II in her Christmas message urged us all to do “small things with great love.” That’s a message for optimists.
So, as 2017 opens, I say “a pox on the cynics.” Let us hope, and work for a better world.
As for resolutions, I resolve to love more, worry less, and greet each day as a gift from God.
Happy New Year!