Friday, January 10, 2014

New Year's and Our Capacity for Newness

New Year’s celebrations are funny things.  Where 364 past midnights have passed by with barely a whimper, this one on December 31st gets all the bang and splendor of a world-changing event. Where people have slept through most of the midnights of the year, extra effort is made to “stay up” for this one. For grownups, New Year’s Eve is like waiting up for Santa, for the gift of new opportunities, dusted-off hopes and dreams, a toast into the darkness, full of glitter and noise.

I admit that I’m no different than others in this respect. This last New Year’s Eve, I was with a small group of seven Brothers who had gone to a rustic camp on the Russian River in Northern California, one which we have owned since the 1920’s. Overlooking the river, we had a nice dinner – the steaks were way too big for my newly Singaporeanized tastes – and then people read or talked or went to the TV room down the hall. About twenty minutes before midnight, we all went into the TV room, watched the crazy people at Times Square with their semi-manufactured excitement, and took part in the general wave of anticipation (with a three-hour delay). Finally, amidst huge screens and light, glitter and noise, the “ball” dropped and we all toasted in the New Year with a small glass of champagne. Then we gratefully moved to our small bedrooms and forgot all about it.

Funny enough, the next morning was pretty much as it had been the day before, and people were pretty much the same as they were before. So where was the difference? We would now be a bit careful when we wrote out a date, making sure that it was “2014” and not the automatic “2013.” We would begin to work on a couple of personal resolutions, usually surrounding weight and exercise. And we would have a slightly brighter disposition for a few days or weeks, because something new had begun.

It’s the celebration of that newness, it seems to me, that makes all the difference for us. You could even say that New Year’s Eve is a celebration of our capacity for newness. Change is possible and exciting, no matter how small. Potential and hope are ever nearby, waiting to be recognized. We may get distracted by buying new clothes, new trinkets, new phones, believing these may fill the hole in the soul. Yet each time it’s not really enough, doesn’t really do the trick. There’s a “more” that drives our capacity for newness, and it is one that comes from the drive of life itself, from an instinct to be part of this world, to be alive.

Our capacity for newness is also manifested in our sense of wonder and imagination. Mystery, including the mystery of life itself, remains ever intriguing and captivating. Just see the expression on the faces of children and the young at heart when they encounter new aspects of the world around them. We say that they “light up” with excitement, with the sheer brilliance of the newness of it all.

This capacity for newness is something that requires sustenance and regular exercise, and not only the annual slightly inebriated gesture into the night. Kids discover newness best and do so naturally. Older folks with tendencies of ossification have to be more intentional about it. But it is always there, willing to be brought into the light of day, even if that light has to be made up of exploding fireworks.

May you be well and truly blessed with all the new that embraces you, remembering St. Augustine’s insight: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”