“And now we welcome the new year. Full of things that have never been.”
– Rainer Maria Rilke
This week marks the start of a new year, another clean slate. In the Northeast, snow begins to fall around this time of January, and with its white sheen, we remember that new beginnings are indeed possible. As life continues, our hope renews, and the way we mark time, our milestones of joy, turn over again. We begin once more, as we carry on.
The beginning of 2019 was met with great anticipation and relief for most people in my life. I heard, more than ever before, “2018 was a hard year,” a confession I saw repeatedly met with sighs of understanding. As my loved ones counted down to midnight, emotion swelled within me. I felt sad, wistful, and grateful. Sad for the state of the world, not quite prepared to let go of what had become familiar in 2018, and yet profoundly grateful for the love that surrounds me.
In my family, we keep an unusual New Year’s Eve tradition, a tradition my father, who grew up in Malaysia, has honored since his childhood. We open the windows and doors in the house, turn on all the lights, and after the countdown and a toast, each walk through every room, singing and holding noise makers. We let the old year out and herald the new year in. Because we lived in northeast Ohio and not Kuala Lumpur growing up, my brother and I felt often ambivalent about this tradition, which as children required us to wear full snow suits to brave the frigid air pouring through every open window. The tradition, at times, either felt like a chore or a relic from my dad’s South Asian past. Nevertheless, every year our house was cleansed with joy and the sounds of life.
This year, there were no snowstorms or dangerously cold temperatures. For the first time that I can remember, we hosted the tradition in 50 degree weather, which at first seemed like a lucky gift, but actually, brought with it a new and unexpected challenge, dangerously high gusts of wind. As we shouted the countdown to midnight with champagne glasses in hand, the wind was flickering the lights, turning over every potted plant, and blowing open every door and cabinet in the house.
Despite the wind putting on a show for us, we marched around our family home singing, shouting, and proudly waving our noise makers: my mom, my dad, my new husband, my brother, my brother’s lovely girlfriend, my aunt, and my best friend, on the cusp of the new, all together.
In the United States, 2019 began in an interesting and unfortunate headlock, in the midst of a government shutdown, with the same bigotry and corruption we’ve been dealing with for the last several years hanging in the air. Though our Democrats have new plans, the year turned over with the stubborn gripping their power and trampling on the vulnerable. No one with a sensitive heart could forget that or ignore the suffering and injustice we have witnessed this year. These thoughts permeated this New Year’s Eve for my family, as has been true in the last several years. Throughout the course of the evening, several people in our group raised something concerning, frustrating, or enraging they had read about within the last week. The disappointments we have all endured this year have been devastating, and I often wonder how I will ever explain what this time in our country’s history felt like to my future children.
And yet, as a family, we celebrated as we have in better times, not to escape the concerns of the world, but because celebration, even and especially in hard times, is important. Joy, humor, kindness are revolutionary, too. Celebration – when born of love and good will – flare forth, the creative antithesis to totalitarianism. To be fully human together, strange and delightful, means we must also celebrate life together.
With the warm wind raging, we opened our doors and windows to the world in a state of entropy and uncertainty. What poured in was not scary or threatening though; the house was filled with the scents of the earth, the wet ground, the pine trees, and woodsmoke from a neighbor’s fireplace. As doors slammed shut and opened again, as shingles flew off the roof, I could only think, here are the winds of change. I choose not to be frightened by the upset that the wind brings, but rather, hopeful about this unknown, all that has not been, for we have faced the unknown before and received great gifts.
Our country stands still today, as it has for weeks on the issue of a wall – to keep brown people who look like me out. In the dark, they debate about a wall that is as much about the border of this country as it is about the border of the heart. As the days turn over in this month of January, whether or not our government moves forward this week or next month, I choose to open the door to my heart. And what better way to welcome the other in than in celebration, embracing the light.
Happy New Year.