Well, we are saying goodbye Friday night to 2021.
Good riddance, you say? I agree. I thought 2020 was the low point of life in the United States, but the tone was set in January when 2021 had its 'hold my beer' moment. A moment that lasted a full twelve months.
It got worse. The pandemic continued despite vaccines. The division in our country continued to grow. The ignorance, hatred, and general lack of decency metastasized, leaving institutions we once thought impregnable, infinitely, er, pregnable.
So, looking at 2022, an increasingly jaded world asks, "What's next?"
In the English language, and, I assume others as well, tone is everything. So, when we ask what's next, it's not with the exuberant expectation of a kid on Christmas Eve. "Oh boy, what's next!!!"
It's more of the tone of someone who has been shoveling nastiness out of their basement for days after floods, mudslides, forest fires. When they hear the rumble of thunder and see more clouds gathering, they say, 'Oh boy, what's next!!!"
This is the tone many of us have looking at 2022.
An old roommate of mine used to say that New Years was nothing. An arbitrary starting point, neither sacred, nor historical, and more practically, a night when 'amateur' drinkers went out and drove drunk. Not having many thoughts of my own back then, I agreed.
He still may be right, but despite its lack of historical or religious gravitas, New Year's performs a vital psychological function for us. It's a reset button, a separator, and what I like to call, a Zamboni intermission.
When I was a kid, I was fascinated with the Zamboni, the machine used to clean and restore the ice between periods of a hockey game. The driver carefully steers the giant shoebox with wheels and mysterious inner workings up and down the surface. The thoroughness and the need for neatness was obvious to me, despite it never being explained.
I was always annoyed when TV38 cut away from the Zamboni to show a boring between periods interview between Bruins color man Johnny Pierson and some old-time hockey guy, or worse, some newspaper writer. It was more interesting and satisfying to watch the Zamboni.
When I first started going to skating rinks when I was seven or eight, I loved when the Zamboni came out. Everyone else would be mad because they had to leave the ice, but I loved it. I would stagger over to the gate (I wasn't a good skater), and grab onto the back side of the boards for balance. After the driver finished and brought his full load of snow out back to dump, I looked at the wet-shiny surface and waited by the gate for the skate guard (a lifeguard on ice, I suppose), to blow the whistle calling the faithful back onto the ice.
I tried to be the first one on the ice. I wanted to be on the virgin surface, still wet, but gradually freezing into a smooth, fast track. I loved being the first to side-stop and spray snow up off the ice. I loved feeling so fast, even though I wasn't, and I loved being alone, except for a few ice nerds who were as excited as I was to get out there.
After a few minutes, the hoards returned, the figure skaters, the hockey players, the little kids with milk crates, the parents in their boots, the hand-holding couples on their first dates, and goons like me trying not to hurt myself or anyone else.
The Zamboni metaphor applies neatly to New Year's. The new year is new ice, untouched, smooth, ready to go. We can rush into it excitedly, creep out warily, or simply go on and start again.
As is the case with every hour of every day, the past, though we remember it, no longer matters. Our successes, those neat, high-speed turns we cut at the corners, and our failures, the wipeouts that produced imprints of our snow-covered butts when we fall are forgotten. The ruts and divots in the ice, filled and smoothed by fast-freezing ice, are gone along with the circumstances and excuses we made about the past.
Only the present matters when it comes to what we do next.
My old roomie was right - New Year's is an arbitrary holiday. You can actually hit the reset on your life at any time, cleaning the ice, wiping the board, raking the leaves, mulching the flower bed - whatever new start symbol you like. You need not wait.
But New Year's is a good time if only because many other people are trying to transform themselves too. Many have defeatist attitudes, citing the well-worn statistics about how quickly we abandon our new attitudes and return to our old ways. Self-fulfilling prophecy or a secret desire to avoid change? Who knows?
In 2021, despite ample opportunity and enough resources, I didn't meet all my goals. I had hoped to self-publish three books. I published one. I had hoped to write a blog post weekly. I will finish the year with thirteen, not fifty-two.
I had wanted to donate platelets at the Red Cross Blood Donation Center twenty times. I only reached thirteen.
I wanted to get a job, and after 2 1/2 years unemployed, I got one.
I will set new goals for 2022. I will try to make them challenging but feasible. Some I will hit, some I will not, if history is any indicator.
But indicator or not, the present is the time to act. The present can be different than the past.
We can go out and make new marks. New marks on the fresh, clean, new ice.
God bless you.
Jim Donaher is a writer, blogger, and paraeducator from Massachusetts. He is the author of two books, including Call Him, He's Home: A Regular Person's Guide to Prayer