It’s time for a new year! A happy new year, we hope, not a grim Orwellian 1984, but a joyous 2020. Each January first begins a new year, but what does it mean to be new — a new dawn, a new day, a new year and now a new decade?
Note that we say “happy” new year, which implies that the new year could also be unhappy. While we welcome and adore the “new” as fresh and positive, it can also be horrifying and painful. A new year can be filled with the end of relationships, the onset of serious illnesses and the deaths of beloved family members and friends. When we say “happy new year,” though, we mean joy and love, not the pain that lurks in the shadows.
New means change. Out with the old, in with the new. Out with the unhelpful, familiar, the thoughtless routine. When we look at our lives and beliefs, there are clearly those aspects that are out-dated ad perhaps harmful. Do we eat too much fast food (oh, those yummy double burgers and fries)? Are we too sedate and flabby? Does our tepid commitment to helping others, like immigrants and the homeless, need to be replaced with more energetic caring and action?
Do some of our beliefs and stereotypes of people different from us, who live other kinds of lives, who have different politics and religions, need to be let go? How about our refusal to consider beliefs that differ, even contradict and challenge our own deeply held social, political, philosophical and religious beliefs? Will Christians hear openly the views of Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, agnosticism and atheism? Will atheists listen to theists? In our deeply divided country, will Democrats listen to Republicans, Republicans to Democrats and independents to both?
While “new” doesn’t mean automatically discarding all of the traditions and beliefs that guide our lives, it may mean leaving our comfortable nests of beliefs to walk the streets of self-examination with the spirit of Socrates. Shouldn’t out with the old and in with the new increase peace and harmony in our families, communities and world?
And, of course, we will keep the memories of joy and love that sustain us through difficult times and remind us of happy times and years. I remember skating on frozen ponds in Detroit as a kid and years later skating on an indoor rink in Bakersfield with my grandson as he was just learning how to skate, falling and getting up, falling and getting up, determined to do it. And just this past Thanksgiving in Boston watching him score the tying two goals for his hockey team.
So what kind of new do we want? Do we want new things, like clothes and cars? Do we want new experiences, like traveling to cities and countries, seeing snow-capped mountains, lush forests or deep blue oceans? Do we want to strengthen our love of family and friends? Meet new people? Create new music, art, poetry?
How about thinking deeply over how we wish our lives to change for the better, which is more than a simple resolution. Rather, it may be the beginning of a long and continuing examination of who we are and who we want to become, because underlying all of the new ambitions, goals and activities is our self, our soul. In the words of the poet May Sarton, “Of learning what to be and how to be it.”
A new year is a time for renewal, reenergizing those parts of ourselves that help us seek truth and wisdom, that open our hearts to others. To paraphrase the author of “Ecclesiastes,” a time to reap and sow, a time to cast away and keep, a time to lose and a time to get. A time to ring out the old and a time to ring in the new!
Jack Hernandez is a retired director of the Norman Levan Center of the Humanities at Bakersfield College.