This is my first blog post of 2021. Traditionally, I should say something important, pithy and clever about the milestone. But what pops into my head to say (my 62-year-old-head) is different than what might pop into your head, especially if you’re younger or older than me. Because the meaning, and the impact, of the year turning over differs during your years.
The Early Years
At first, you have no awareness of “New Year”. Calendars, weeks, months, years don’t mean anything. You live in the now. You can’t imagine it being any time but right now, or today. You can’t imagine being anywhere else, anyone else, or anything being different.
Eventually, you might notice a night where your parents are going to have a babysitter. Or maybe your parents host a party that goes on well after your bedtime. It’s peculiar, but you don’t see it as a life change - it’s a temporary anomaly. Interesting, but no more than that.
Awareness Sets In
As you become more self aware, and under the world a little better, you notice a certain number of birthdays have gone by, and you anticipate more coming down the pike, You’re aware of an annual cycle. Just as your age is counted in years, the years themselves have a name, and that gets updated annually.
On the final day of the year, folks have a tradition of staying up to midnight to signal the turnover. At first you’re too young to participate. Then, the year comes when you’re allowed to stay up until midnight - maybe you fail to make it that late the first try - but eventually, you get to experience the minute when one year becomes another. It’s pretty neat, and people make noise and act silly.
You decide this is a cool thing, and it becomes something to look forward to.
You Think You Get It Now
Through your teens, staying up to midnight is something you know you can do, and the party starts to seem more important. It’s a grown up thing, and you get to party with grownups gradually. After not too long, you seek your own New Year’s parties. You get to drink, and there’s kissing at midnight - it’s big fun and you make some memories.
Eventually, staying up to midnight, or having a few drinks isn’t memorable in and of itself. You also inject some reflection into the process. Your life is starting to have its own milestones, and the New Year brings a reckoning - what have you learned in the last 12 months? What has changed? A new job? A marriage? New friends? The loss of a friend or loved one? New Year’s begins to actually be poignant.
You’re Really Getting It Now
With each passing New Year’s celebration, you notice an alarming pattern - the time between the new years is accelerating. Now some urgency is added to the poignancy. Maybe a dash of wistfulness. You and your friends have deepening awareness of years that have gone by, and you find yourself making some hard comparisons.
If you’re a good optimist, you can drink a toast to all the things you’ve done right, and are thankful for. But live long enough, and even optimists will have some regrets and losses to lament with a tip of glass as well.
Is this a bad thing? No, it’s just evidence that life grows more beautiful and more precious with each passing year.