We’re conditioned — by popular song, by cartoons, by culture — to think of the old year (in this case 2019) as elderly and infirm by its end and the new year (2020, a perfectly …
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We’re conditioned — by popular song, by cartoons, by culture — to think of the old year (in this case 2019) as elderly and infirm by its end and the new year (2020, a perfectly balanced number that verily rolls off the tongue) as a diaper-clad baby fresh, new and full of vigorous potential.
Alfred Lord Tennyson, the 19th century English poet, wrote: “Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky, the flying cloud, the frosty light; the year is dying in the night; ring out wild bells and let him die.”
On the evening of New Year’s Eve, as I watched from the quiet comfort of my couch CNN’s Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen broadcasting live from Times Square, where they awaited the ball to drop in the time-honored tradition of shedding the old and welcoming the new, I found myself falling into a funereal and melancholy mindset.
Never mind that Messrs. Cooper and Cohen were upbeat with alcohol. I was as sober as I’d been when I woke up that morning, and the passing of the year felt significant.
And then something funny happened to shake me from my passive, pensive mood.
Cooper and Cohen launched into an interview with the members of Dead & Company; i.e., the surviving members of venerable old rock band The Grateful Dead, newly incarnated as a touring band with the assistance of singer/songwriter John Mayer.
Cohen asked Mayer if he had any new year’s resolutions — to which Mayer, his gaze fixed on the camera and at all of us viewers on couches across the country, answered after a thoughtful pause: “Keep up the good work.”
Mayer then embellished the sentiment, adding, “I don’t think every year that goes by is a year full of mistakes you need to correct. I, for one, would love to have a 2020 like I had a 2019. I think we had a great year.”
It’s not the response Cohen, nor I, expected from the musician.
It was so novel and refreshing, in fact, my wife and New Year’s Eve couch mate Jessica (also, full disclosure, a John Mayer fan) grabbed her iPhone to consult Twitter, prepared for the inevitable Twitter backlash, which naturally was swift with accusations of cockiness.
I’ve certainly fallen into the trap of caging a new year as if it’s a time for atonement when, really, atonement isn’t necessary. It may be fashionable to reject the tired old year, but was the old year really so awful? It didn’t seem so at the time.
Still, the launch of a new year feels naturally like a time to reflect, to re-adjust, to aim to improve.
And thus we have new year’s resolutions. It’s almost unavoidable.
I have a few, I suppose.
In 2020, I certainly would like to be the proverbial “better” person. Eat healthier. Ditch bad habits. Lower my carbon footprint. Pay it forward. Stick with the evening walks and not so readily decide the couch is more comfortable.
But a new year, infant that it is, should also be treated gently. Putting too much weight on it at the start — burdening its young little shoulders with so much expectation — might not be the best approach.
It is, after all, a fledgling, unsteady on its legs, and should be afforded space and patience to grow and find its way.
Maybe the best thing we can aim for — instead of etching grand plans in stone as we remove the shrink wrap from our new desk calendars — is to make the most of the time we have, enjoy the good times and fix the things that need fixing, no matter the hour, day, month or year.
It’s early. There’s time.
Happy new year.