An End, a Beginning

Why does the Western idea of the year end (and the next begin) in the dead of winter? I  mean, I know how cultural the thing is: Pope Gregory XIII decided on ours, in Islamic culture it’s in spring, Judaism places it in fall, and here again the Chinese have the edge on us, both in solid terms of years lived and really good origin stories. And of course North Korea passes recorded time in a very Kimilsungian way.

If we measured the year in terms of our own entry into life (birthday to birthday), that would be so American. Many already do this, if unofficially.

2011, the year I lost my Dad, got me thinking about the whole journey of life: not just how it begins but how it ends. About a year before Dad left us, I was present at the birth of my youngest nephew, on — fittingly enough — the longest day of the year. These were not entirely different events, yet our culture celebrates the birth and fears the death. Interesting.

The truth is that there is beauty in both: arrival and departure. I know this, as I know that I want 2011 gone more than any year before it. (I actually wanted to corner it on the way out and beat it senseless.) I know that getting to see life begin and end, having a role in each, has been the highlight of midlife for me.

I don’t get to resent the year just past for what I lost to it. I’m beyond the age where one loss gets that kind of power. Life accelerates in a certain direction; I won’t get to keep as much as I’ll have to lose. And I will lose more. I can’t rip whole years, of kids’ birthdays and sunlit days and laughter, off the calendar because of things lost within them. My father never would have done that.

Goodbye, 2011. Not good riddance: goodbye. And thank you for the education.




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