They say that how you spend New Year's Eve tells a lot about you.
Well then - I'm the sort of dull, insignificant person who usually spends the evening at home, fairly quietly, doing fairly dull, insignificant things like watching television or a film, listening to music, reading, reminiscing... with an almost inaudible clinking of glasses (or, indeed, teacups...) at midnight, followed by a minor flurry of phone-calls, texts and tweets. Boring?
I've been there. I remember many New Year's Eves in crowded bars, complete with anonymous hugs from drunken strangers. People bellow out the words of Auld Lang Syne as part of the midnight ritual. "We'll have a friendly drink for old time's sake", roughly translates the most famous lines of the song from Robert Burns' Scots dialect. I avoid it largely because New Year's Eve always makes me feel sad - sombre - and I have no desire to cloud anyone else's festivities by emerging as some kind of shadowy ghost of human doom, sitting in a corner looking sad and thoughtful.
New Year's Eve. It's a punctuation mark in our story. A full stop - an ellipsis - a question mark, even. To go out and celebrate full-throttle would turn it into a kind of thoughtless exclamation mark. Maybe no bad thing... but if we're going to first-foot our way into the new year, surely we should be thinking just a bit about the experiences and the lessons and the people of the year we're leaving behind?
Escaping the lethargy of post-Christmas home life for a coffee a day or two ago, I overheard a group of friends discussing their plans for New Year's Eve. Venues and taxis had been booked. Babysitters or mothers had been bribed in advance. Now it was down to business: what to wear. There was a lot at stake: it was like, really important that no two women should emerge onto a New Year's Eve dancefloor wearing the same outfit. Wardrobe details were being divulged and discussed with all the precision of a military operation. "You wear your black dress from Warehouse, and I'll wear my Oasis one and then Jane can wear her one from Next. Because like, it'll be so not good if we like, both wear the Oasis one." "Aye. You're right. Death, like. Death in a dress. And that's so not cool."
So much trouble - for one evening, when the revellers will be systematically ripped off, pushed, shoved, offered a drunken grope by a shifty-looking stranger, and will feel exhausted and somehow irretrievably disappointed the next morning. I suppose I'm being excessively judgemental. There's nothing at all wrong with an inconsequential night of dressed-up merry-making: anticipated, enjoyed and recovered from. But do I really want to begin the next year of my life wondering if that is all there is?
We face the New Year like the lone surfer making his approach to the towering white foam of a winter wave. He looks insignificant - a tiny black figure in the swirling water, the wave magnificent as it towers above him, preparing, reaching, curling. As the wave breaks, the surfer knows what to do. His board ready, he slides upwards through the water and gets ready to stand. If skill and luck are on his side he'll have that incredible moment when he's up there, aloft, riding the wave... until it throws him and he's down again, paddling, gasping, defeated and exhilarated at the same time. As midnight passes, we're the same. The year ahead is towering above us, beautiful and terrifying. All the months and weeks and days are amassing their strength and their possibilities above - beyond. We don't know what's in store. No predictions or previews can really tell us. We can read and think and speculate. Anticipate the books we might read, the albums we might listen to, the films we might see. But we can never know the friends we might make or lose, the births or deaths we might witness, the illnesses or accidents or happiness or sadness which we'll be thinking of exactly a year from now. Like lone surfers, we have to put into practice everything we've learned before - follow the routine we know. Put our defences up and try to keep standing. It's every bit as inevitable, though, that we'll end up falling - sometimes failing. And it's inevitable too that when that happens, we'll keep fighting and struggling and trying to keep on.
But seas between us braid hae roar'd
Sin auld lang syne...
As Robbie Burns tells us: broad seas have roared between us since times gone by. And the waves will continue to break before us and around us as we move ahead.
And to ride the waves even for a moment, don't we have to think about how we did it all before?
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