When the lights go out

The problem with New Year’s Eve and day is that there’s too much pressure to do something both meaningful and hedonistic. It’s an oxymoronic holiday the way we celebrate it in the U.S. Why would you want to set the tone for a fresh start with a hangover, either literal or figurative, from too much of everything? Too much rich food, too many trinkets that you gave and received and there’s nowhere to put everything. And would someone please take this treadmill I have no intention of using ever again?

Maybe it doesn’t have to be this way. Maybe Jan. 1 should be a celebration of closeness, rest, and relaxation, since winter forces us to slow down. You can’t get any traction when there’s ice on ground. Winter is here, but what does that mean now that every room is filled with screens generating artificial light?

Maybe it means we should light a candle and read a paper book like Abraham Lincoln did, just as a symbolic gesture. I say that, but am I just hypocritically dwelling on the past like aging people always do? Should I just shut up and download an app that counts my footsteps so I can lose these holiday pounds instead of pointing out to everyone who suggests it that people lost weight BEFORE they had apps?

The thing about Americans is that we are not very good at slowing down because, frankly, it’s not good for the economy. You keep cranking it out and I’ll keep consuming it, then we can both be proud of our contributions and no one can call us lazy.

I’m not trying to be preachy. I’m trying to figure out a way to enjoy the end of this holiday break. Everyone I know is saying it’s been a hard year for them, personally and politically. A lot of people are asking themselves: Why is my family so pathetic/dysfunctional? Why am I not where I had hoped to be at this point in life?

The challenge of New Year’s is finding something to look forward to when it is cold outside, we’ve got months of winter ahead, and we know this year will be full of personal and political challenges just like the last one. We are inclined to hibernate, but there’s work to be done.

Probably no one over 30 really looks forward to getting another year older. I, for one, was hoping this year would go by really slowly, because it’s my last year in my 30s. I’ll turn 40 in May, and I don’t care what anyone says, 40 isn’t young.

But dreading my next birthday isn’t slowing down time. The fall semester flew by and spring will do the same. At the school where I work, we start new classes each semester, so I only have the same students for about five months at a time, like at a college. There are good and bad things about that schedule. I suppose in many ways it’s good that we have a lot to do in a short amount of time. Theoretically, there’s little opportunity for boredom.

Theoretically.

Even though most adults don’t look forward to getting older or the challenges it brings, there are people on the planet who do look forward to their next birthday because of all the opportunities that will come with it. Those people are called children. In this country, a child is anyone under the age of 30 with no children of their own.

I can’t remember how I felt the first time I saw snow, but I do remember what it was like when I got my driver’s license, and when I got an acceptance letter from the first college I applied to.

Now I have people asking me for letters of recommendation and help getting internships and even though I have to caution them not to make the same mistakes I did, I also owe it to them not to be too cynical to imagine that there is a big world out there that needs and wants them, and a small one at home that will welcome them back if the big one turns out to be too much or too little.

The small world at home is where it begins, where you can keep it simple with real candles, handwritten letters and paper books, favorite stories, and songs passed from one generation to the next. Simple rituals to hold onto when the lights go out are not just symbolic gestures, but part of surviving the dark winters in every life.

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