The New Year, fast approaching, obviously calls for a column on the subject. But what’s the big deal? At least Christmas brought feasting, drinking and partying; food and warmth and merriment in the middle of winter for pagans and celebration of a savior for Christians.
But the New Year? A repeat of the calendar? A turning of the glass to watch the sands run again? It comes as a sobering shock in a cold, gray world. What’s it worth? A glass of champagne? A look back with regret? A look forward in hopes we will do better this year?
Seems like we did this before and it didn’t change or improve much. But we dutifully scurry around and make resolutions to be a better person, give up our vices and emphasize our virtues.
The most popular New Year resolutions, according to the Internet’s Wikipedia, concern our health habits or lack of them. We resolve to give up smoking, or drinking, excessive eating or failure to exercise.
And that’s good. We are fallible and weak creatures who constantly need to toe the line again and make another effort at self-improvement.
The New Year is as good a time as any to do that. It is a significant date that will reinforce for us the importance of the change.
But let’s not confuse change with improvement. Advertisers are always throwing this one at us, claiming their product is “new and improved.” They don’t necessarily go together. Why don’t we call it new and different? Only time and personal preference will tell whether it’s improved.
When you are as old as the writer of this ramble, an electric toothbrush seems a needless complication of the old-fashioned type and an enclosed, pollution-free stove will never give the sensual pleasure of an open, crackling wood fire.
“There is nothing new under the sun,” a wise man once said. The French, too, have a phrase for it. “Plus la change, plus la meme” which roughly translates as “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”
Despite his ever growing technology and endless fascination with new toys, (from the discovery of a cooking fire to the invention of airplanes and television), the human animal remains much the same, weak in body and intelligent in mind but ruled by his emotions.
Somewhat more than 2,000 years ago, the Greek philosopher Socrates carried a spear as a young man and fought for his country against the Persians. He wasn’t enthusiastic; he was drafted. Growing older and wiser he spent his later days walking, talking and asking “what is beauty, what is wisdom, what is the purpose of life?”
The New Year is a suitable time to get back to basics, to reassess our lives and our aspirations, determine what is important and what is not, even if like Socrates we are not going to find the answer.
Despite this specious spiel, however, I too am only a wishy-washy member of the human race and will be perfectly happy to raise a glass, seek the camaraderie of friends and family on New Year’s Eve and sing Auld Lang Syne, probably out of tune.
As Billy Crystal says to Meg Ryan in that movie, whatever it’s called, “What does Auld Lang Syne mean? Does it mean we shouldn’t forget old friends or we do forget and we shouldn’t or…?”
Luckily at this point she stops his intellectual blather with a kiss. Never mind, she means. We’re human beings craving companionship. We’ve lived another year and we’ll go blundering into the next with high expectations.
John Branch is editor of The Riverbank News and a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader and The Escalon Times. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 847-3021.