All week, the online news has kept my inbox flooded with “best of” lists: movies, actors, books, photos, and podcasts of ’22. It’s a fun way to see the year out, and the best of our pop culture keeps us padded from the worst of the real headlines. From climate change to flight cancellations, from unsheltered people in Seattle to scathed families in Kyiv, from deception of an elected Congressman to Covid cases rising in China, it’s not a pretty picture out there. Where is there hope?
Then, I remember when I was a kid, not everything was hunky-dory in the world, nor in our household, either. Our neighbors built underground bomb shelters, fearing the worst from Russia. Polio was still a threat. We listened to basketball games on the radio because we didn’t have one of those new television sets. My father’s paycheck didn’t stretch far enough to cover a needed car battery and pay the heat bill in the same week. Yet somehow, we made the best of it.
In fact, it was the week between Christmas and New Year’s that I loved the best.
Worries were in the distance and time seemed free. I don’t remember the “best of” lists back then, but I remember the best gifts that my sister and I both had received from each other – a new diary or a thick, lined notebook of paper, clean and crisp like fresh fallen snow.
On New Year’s Day, it was finally time for the wonderful act of starting over. Right after breakfast, my sister and I opened our leather diaries and with ink pens, not marker or pencils, we’d permanently write our names in cursive and record our resolutions, our thoughtful desires for the year ahead. Later that day, we’d turn the calendar to January 1 in our pocket calendars and crease each page, recording our family members’ birthdays forthcoming throughout the year.
I think now of the faint wooden scent of the smooth paper harkening me to hope. It
didn’t matter much that our country was in a cold war with the USSR or that our family was living paycheck to paycheck. I felt determined, willful, and encouraged that with a flip of a new month anything was possible.
Like then, I still love the last week of December when agendas seep away and
anticipation of new is in the air. And like then, on New Year’s Day, I will get out my journal and write my intentions for 2023. I’ll savor time to reflect, taking in the scent and call of the blank page to record hope in its many forms: good neighbors, democracy, children laughing, sunbreaks, a new year.
The poet Emily Dickinson understood this very well.