December 18, 2011

Don't Miss All the Newness of the New Year

This morning, after a challenging night of fussy baby consoling and few hours of uninterrupted sleep, I begrudgingly fumbled around to get dressed and bundled up to take my increasingly anxious dog outside.  He could barely contain himself as I made several half-starts at the door-- oops, forgot to grab a bag, now where did the leash go? I better grab a real coat not just this flimsy hooded wrap, etc.  But as we finally got out the door he bounced around wagging and sniffing excitedly while my eyes struggled to adjust to the cold, bleak brightness.  How could my furry friend be so giddy to frolic around at this wee morning hour (besides the obvious opportunities to urinate on about a dozen different 'special' spots invisible to me) while I shivered and lamented the season's utter greyness?  To him, the first morning walk signals a new day--a comforting, reliable beginning of a daily routine that will be shortly followed by a refilled food bowl, refreshened water bowl, and at least a third of whatever I make myself for breakfast (he hopes it's a cheese omelette with turkey sausage, he told me so).  I can practically hear him chanting "Oh boy! Oh boy! Oh boy!" from his body language, overjoyed that these things have been put into motion as soon as I start groaning about getting up to take him out.
Garrett, my always-happy mutt

Even to a dog, the freshness of a new day is recognized.  How often do we get out of bed and feel that way about a new day?  After all, days keep coming, and more often than not, there is nothing all that spectacular about the next one.  And yet, we're primed to be excited about all things new.  As I stood in the courtyard of our new apartment community, a quirky vintage French Quarter themed establishment, the giant multi-tiered fountain with its ornate French styling looked gloomy rather than inviting, as it stands empty against the grey sky--dead leaves lie where bubbling water will run in several months.  The courtyard itself, missing the humming of activity since the adjacent movie theatre is now on its limited winter hours, and the restaurant and night club are perfectly silent this cold morning. Not one sound of children running around despite it being a clear weekend day, nor dogs barking as people walk past their windows--just the sound of Garrett sniffing, and my own breath puffing a billow of fog in the chilly air.

Today it's 33-degrees here in Columbus, Ohio, and I thought for a moment on how 33 will feel so much warmer later, in the depths of winter, after a big snow has left a blanket of sparking white everywhere, when the wind stops and the sun hangs low--when I step out I will undoubtedly remark about how warm 32-degrees feels.  But today, on the back of a string of days in the upper 40's and into the 50's, 33-degrees with a chilled wind in the air, surrounded by a grey bleakness, it feels absolutely inhospitable.

 I couldn't help but anticipate the surge of energy the new year will bring to this atmosphere--when life in general will seem renewed with fresh ideas, goals, and "newness" even as the greyness of winter persists.  This got me thinking-- how powerful is our concept of time and our associations with designations of 'newness' that in the middle of winter, with nary an environmental clue to anything different (a stark contrast to the sense of newness that comes with the emergence of Spring, and the symbolic triumph of  bright green seedlings sprouting through frost-hardened soil) we can attach a feeling of freshness just because our calendar year will switch to a new numeric value.

We've taken an entirely man-made concept of time (our own calendar having been constructed not too terribly long ago in the grand scale of human history) and attached deeper meanings to the passage of one day which marks the end of one year into another. And yet, once the festivities conclude, many of us view (however briefly) the New Year as a time for self-improvement.  Perhaps it's the feeling of a fresh start, a clean slate, when we can forgive ourself for the failings of last years' resolutions, and which motivates us to try again.

 It would be a shame to waste all this positive energy on just New Years though.

Since we can see that there is really no significant difference between the last day of 2011 and the first day of 2012 except that which we choose to bestow, we can harness that power of the mind to create 'special' times throughout the year as well--imbuing this new year with many new Fresh Starts filled with that same productive energy.  We already have many cues in place to remind us of all the Newness spread throughout the year, and if we pay attention, we can find more.

The calendar year may start in January and conclude in December, but if you have children or are still a student yourself, you are on another calendar which begins sometime at the tail end of summer and concludes just at the end of spring--the school year.  A new school year can mark exciting transitions in academic, social and personal growth, and we make it special with a fresh lot of school supplies, some new clothes, and perhaps even a new organizational system and some new goals, or new year resolutions, if you will.

Then there are other calendars in which that you may participate.  If you are, or have friends who are, of a non-Christian faith, such as myself, there is undoubtedly a different calendar involved.  Since I'm Jewish, our spiritual New Year (Rosh Hashanah) falls at a predictable date on the Hebrew calendar (which is a lunar-based calendar) but on different days each year on the Gregorian calendar (usually sometime in September).
Rosh Hashanah symbols: the shofar horn,
which is blown to signal the new year, and
pomegranates, for luck and prosperity.

You might know someone who celebrates the Chinese New Year (usually between late January and late February-based on a lunar cycle) or the Hindu New Year (usually in April-when the Sun enters a special position).  In fact in many other places in the non-English world, calendars and holidays are tied to lunar phases, and equinoctes and solstices, or on indigenous ancient calendars, or just when spring arrives.  The more you learn how the concept of time is strictly a product of where you were born and the cultural or religious 'tribe' to which you belong, the more January 1st seems rather arbitrary.

On the Jewish calendar, each new month is special.  We even have a special name for the transition from one month to the next, Rosh Chodesh; it's like a mini-holiday at sundown of the last day of the month, which means a new moon is arriving, and has significance in a variety of biblical passages.  And if you consider the oft-cited suggestion that new habits take 30 days to form, a special recognition of each new month can mean many new opportunities to improve yourself throughout the year.
The lunar phases

 Indeed, one tidbit of the Hebrew lexicon that I find so inspiring, is that the word that approximates sin, chet, is derived from an old archery term which roughly means 'to miss the mark.'    As there is no condemnation to any firey pits of hell in the Jewish tradition, the overall concept of sin is that people are typically good, and "sin" is the product of our 'missing the mark'--bound to happen with imperfect beings.  And every time we 'miss the mark' (any time when we were not as good as we could have been) we are afforded a new attempt to hit that target.

So celebrate the Newness of the New Year, come up with all those lofty resolutions.  Clean your house, organize your life.  But as the year drags on, don't forget to observe all the other signs of Newness that pop up throughout the year.  Each one can have the same positive energy--the permission to forgive ourselves for missing the mark, the courage to pick up and shoot again;  That fresh start, the blank slate--a new shot at hitting that target.

Open source, copyright-free images courtesy of Dream Time

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