I always feel like I should say Something Profound at the turn of a new year, a time when so many folks look back before looking ahead. Try as I might to convince myself that New Year’s Eve is somehow different and more magical than any other winter evening, however, I can’t seem to pull it off. Year-round, I’m fairly contemplative; year-round, I’m fascinated by the incessant flow of time. Why, then, should this night be any different from any other?
Heavy drinkers refer to New Year’s Eve as “amateur night”: one night a year when merely casual drinkers decide to tie one on. I’ve already described how I feel something similar about Thanksgiving, that one day a year when everyone makes a conscious effort to Be Grateful. The older I get, the more befuddled I find myself at these enforced periods of frivolity: why should I be more grateful, more merry, or more happy this day rather than that? I’m all for gratitude, happiness, and celebration…but what if one’s emotional compass isn’t precisely aligned to those red-letter days when everyone else insists on merry-making?
I have to admit I look forward to January 1st mainly because it marks a return to ordinary time: the period after the expected elation of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. J and I don’t do much out of the ordinary to mark the holiday season, and this leaves me feeling out-of-step with friends and colleagues who are more intentional when it comes to their annual merry-making. If you’re happy all year round, why should it be so extraordinary that you don’t go out of your way to be Extra Happy during the months of November and December? On Christmas, I was overjoyed simply to turn off my laptop for a much-appreciated day off spent walking around Beacon Hill with J, taking pictures. Forcing myself to do something more on Christmas would have felt arbitrary and artificial, like sitting for those portrait photographers who carefully arrange you into some stilted pose and then urge you to “Act natural!” The contentment I feel year-round is candid and unsolicited: it arises naturally on any given day, not just the red-letter ones.
On January 2nd, my emotions become my own again, free from the external input of holiday hoopla. New Year’s Eve offers the once-a-year opportunity to see one year transform into another…but every day offers the opportunity to see one moment dissolve into the next. Tonight is a night when amateur clock-watchers try to compete with those of us who are perpetually obsessed with time’s passage: who cares about the passage of one year when you can spend your days hearkening to every passing minute?
True-blue sports fans have to chuckle at the scoreboard noise-meters that “remind” spectators when they should cheer: if you’re a true-blue sports fan, you don’t need to be prompted to “get loud” at the critical juncture of a game, and it seems to me that happiness is something similar. If you’re genuinely content with your everyday life, you don’t need the extra stimulus of the holidays to remind you of that fact; without streamers, noise-makers, and party hats to tell you when to be happy, you can simply pay attention to your life and respond appropriately.
Tonight, J and I are staying in for New Year’s Eve; tomorrow, we’ll do our usual Friday routine, tending to the pets and taking time in the afternoon to watch the Winter Classic on TV, an understated nod to annual festivities. It isn’t every night that a New Year comes knocking, but every night you choose how you live your life, with every year like every life being nothing but an endless sequence of moments. At each critical juncture, you decide what to do with this moment and the next and the next, your New Year’s resolve continuing ad infinitum, This Present Moment reflecting the practice of every other.
Click here for a photo-set of images from Christmas on Boston’s Beacon Hill: enjoy, and happy New Year!