The COVID-19 pandemic, the battered democracy, the turbulence of racial and economic struggles – this is definitely the Year of Apprehension. We’ll probably all survive. Even if a lot of people continue to suffer and die and need our attention.
Given the difficulty of looking ahead, I dug into the archives for a look back. New Year blogs – and a bunch of New Year stories that pre-date the era of the blog – turn out to offer many bright spots and a little reassurance.
New Year’s 2000 – That one was fun. Remember the Y2K problem? The Millennium Bug? Computers everywhere, unequipped to deal with this new digit coming after 1999, would be crashing and burning and taking us all down with them? My husband and I actually attended a somewhat subdued New Year’s Eve dinner party at which one of the other guests was an official of a global engineering company which will remain un-named. He spent the evening with an ostentatious black box at hand – during dinner he did get it off the table and into his lap – because of mysterious dangers that might need his immediate attention at the stroke of midnight. We followed that stroke across time zones. Our highest moments of hilarity were speculating about exactly what that black box was going to do to us all when he pushed his magic button; our engineer friend was not amused. The covid bug does make the Y2K bug seem quaint.
When New Year’s 2009 arrived I was heavy into brain exercise, having become a participant in a brain health study not long before. That piece reflected on the proliferation of brain health studies – New York’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine, the University of Texas’ Center for Vital Longevity to name two – specifically targeting the aging population. The resultant general recommendation was for everyone to plunge into word games and math games and we’d all be fine. Having still never found the time to get into games of any sort, I guess my brain just continues to muddle along.
In 2010, as the year turned, I was still preoccupied with brain stuff: esoteric questions (and some more fancy studies) about the passage of time. It was a sort of “Where in the heck did ten years go?” rumination. Considering the fact that the past year has seemed at least thirty years long, this perspective also makes past issues seem quaint.
For many of the in between years I included a favorite poem, just because poetry seems a good way to start a new year. So for these troubled times I offer the first and last few verses of Ian Frazier’s priceless holiday poem “Greetings, Friends!” in the December 28 issue – back in that old year – of The New Yorker.
Friends one and all! Let us unmute,
Excite the timbrel and the lute,
Make merry with our pots and pan
(The hour is seven, so we can),
Shout from the balcony or lawn
For joy at what will soon be gone,
And praises sing for what is here:
The end to this undreamt-of year!
Frazier goes on for 70+ poignant and hilarious lines, rhyming in friends and neighbors and people we know of or wish we knew; and finally winds up thus:
Let gladness rise, despite, despite;
“Love one another” routs the night,
And kindness is a folding chair
We carry with us everywhere.
In depth of winter, prospects brighten;
Mighty streams of light will lighten
The miles ahead, and goodness reign –
Once more, the angels’ grand refrain!
Thanks, Ian Frazier, and everyone who helped us though the old year with reminders that grace and humor still abound.
Happy New Year, and welcome, 2021!
This essay also appears on Medium.com