The Dec. 26 Garfield comic strip pretty much said what I feel at this time of year. Garfield the cat was staring out the window at the snow and thought the day after Christmas was always quiet and peaceful. The excitement had died down, all the carols had been sung, all the presents unwrapped and all the cookies scarfed. Then he hugged Jon and let out a “Waaaahhh!”
That season euphemistically called “the holidays” always seems to go by too fast for my liking. Christmas is gone in a brilliant flash of colored lights, quickly followed by the rest of the year. And from that perspective, everything is a year older, from ourselves to our cars.
In my last offering, I was writing about “thin places,” those spiritual points of reference where this world and the world to come (as phrased in the Nicene Creed) exist most closely together.
That’s what New Year’s Eve seems like to me –looking back on what I’ve accomplished during the year and looking forward to a better year. At least I hope so.
Brats were grilled and a “Twilight Zone” marathon watched. The march of time sounded clearer to me on Dec. 31st I recalled some laughing ghosts from the past, those people and events that helped shape who I’ve become. And I gave thanks for all the friends and family who have since joined the passing parade through the thin places.
Fred, Scrooge’s nephew in “A Christmas Carol,” summed up the season well. He thought of Christmas as a good time, “… when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”
Mr. Dickens was right. Every person who has walked this earth, regardless of station in life, is indeed a fellow-passenger to the grave. A frequent theme in medieval art portrays time as a sort of Grim Reaper character bringing up the rear as a column of people force-marches down the road to a graveyard in the distance. And in the crowd is the face of everyone.
In more recent years, time as a character in popular culture has taken on a less menacing face. He appears in two forms each New Year. One is an old, bearded man in a white robe and carrying a scythe. The other is a baby in a diaper and a top hat, representing the year to come. And within a year, that baby will morph into the old man he replaced.
But in the meantime, the babe will probably start out by wondering for how long he can get away with blaming all the bad stuff on his predecessor.
Especially on New Year’s Eve, I wonder what happened to those wizened old men we call years – those who left the stage, sometimes in ignominy. They may be gone, but they left records of themselves, chronicled into our collective history and memory.
Those points of reference from the years show up from time to time in the media, such as “On this day in 1981, the Landmark Hotel opened.” Or maybe, “On this day in 1958, Bill Bailey finally came home.”
And from those points of reference, we remember. We remember being at the game when our team beat their archrivals for the first time in years. We remember when the blizzard of the century kept everyone at home for a week. And we remember when an election brought us new leadership and got rid of the deadwood that kept gumming up the governmental works.
Or we might have shaken our heads in astonishment when the deadwood kept getting sent backfor another term of obstructionism.
It’s true. We’re all amateur historians. It happens every time we talk with friends and start off with a “Remember when?” It might be something humorous like, “Remember that night when Gary ran down Main Street wearing nothing but smile and a pair of sneakers?”
Oddly enough, I know someone who would probably do that.
New Year’s Eve is a perfect time for remembering “old long since,” or as the old Scots brogue would say, Auld Lang Syne. It’s one of those popular songs to which almost no one knows the words. When poet Robert Burns wrote them down in the late 1700s, the words asked whether old times and old friends would be forgotten – and promised to remember people from the past with fondness.
Now we begin a new year. I always recall a comic character sleeping away on New Year’s Eve as his clock approaches midnight. The alarm rings, he sits up, puts on one of those silly hats and blows a paper horn. He then goes back to sleep.
I haven’t gotten to that point yet, but you never know. Anyway, some people stay up to see in the New Year and others stay up to make sure the old one leaves.
I do hope we all can take some time throughout the year to remember “old long since” and those times of our lives that got us to where we are now.
Or to borrow a phrase from C.S. Lewis in “The Last Battle” – further up and further in.