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If the Maya are correct we are in for big a bad time, as in an End-of-the-World style trouble. Well, it is possible, though in my view you’d need to push the notion of possible very far and hard to include major effects from an event so distant it is long, long over (as in lots of light years) by the time the light gets here. I don’t take the threat seriously, but I’m not arrogant about my position. After all, the gods punished Alexander the Great for his hubris, and I’m a much smaller fish to fry than Alexander. That in mind, I take a practical approach similar to the one that took me safely through the perils of Y2K when civilization was going to perish when all our computer clocks failed. Playing a cautious game I listened to the last stroke of midnight bong way off on the International Date Line with a Jew. Jews observe a different calendar; enough to give Y2K immunity, right? A Chinese with their calendar would have served the same purpose. So for 2012 I’m staying away from anyone Mayan or who looks suspiciously ruined. A Yucatan trip is off my plate for the next 12 Gregorian months.
Now that I’m sufficiently far enough in age to be officially older I don’t look at January 01 with the same excitement the first time I was allowed to stay up for the event. I was ten or eleven; an age when staying up late was a big deal. Well of course there were shiny cone shaped hats with elastic band chin straps and noise makers with hula skirt ends. Could life offer more excitement than that? In our normal household the answer was a definite NO. The hat and celebratory noise was good, but even a ten year old can do that only so long before feeling anticlimactic boredom.
“Is that it? Is this all there is?”
Not quite. There was more. Mother brought out pickled herring and small glasses of Mogen David table wine with the Star of David on the label. (Mogen David was the only wine mother served in our Catholic home on holiday occasions.) So there it was. Pointy hat, noise maker, piece of pickled fish, and a (for me) miniscule sip of wine was what I’d been missing for a decade. Really, who cared? I began to realize adults made little sense. If this was the best they could do a boy was better off staying in bed, but I went through the motions hoping they’d bring out some cake. Cake would fix things. Instead of cake, I was told “Go to bed.” What a gyp.
More than half a century after my first ring-in-the-new-year experience I have almost as much trouble staying awake to midnight as I did as a kid. I remember sitting in my chair a few years back waiting for the ball in Times Square to drop in another half hour. Next thing I knew it was 1 AM. I missed it! Well, it’s a stupid thing anyway. Now if I’m up at midnight it’s to pee. Nature has evened things out. I’ll fall asleep, but there’s no way I’ll stay that way the night. No wine of pickled herring after midnight either. I doubt my gut could handle those things, not any more.
Reflection has replaced celebration. It’s not a full replacement because I do celebrate the fact of another year; years which now speed by more quickly than the way they dragged along when I was ten. It’s fair to say my reflection on the past year and thoughts of how to approach the coming year include no small amount of appreciation. Some years I face a realization that time is running or has already run out for some goals or dreams to be met. Not infrequently I pause to give credit to the role of simple guides in my life. “One day at a time” has proved more than useful to me. So has the Scout Law: Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent are as worthy goals for an adult as for a child. I find it valuable to recognize the role others play (sometimes unexpectedly) in my life. Some years ago I was in a downtown Duluth shop buying clothes for travel. My shirts selected, the shop owner and I had a talk. He said something I found so meaningful that the next chance (a year later) I headed there to thank him. The shop was closed, gone. I regretted not making more and sooner effort to give thanks for his simple expression. “Your work is what you do for a living. Your vocation is what you do with the gift of your talents.” I place much stock in valuing the ways we assist one another and wish I could have told him personally how grateful I was for his words.
Words are a way we help one another. As a writer I have a special regard for the written word, so it distressed me to learn recently a mob in Cairo Egypt torched the Egyptian Institute and stood cheering gleefully as near 200,000 volumes incinerated. The Institute was founded by Napoleon and served for several centuries as a repository of knowledge of Hieroglyphics and ancient history. The Institute, however, was seen by fundamentalist Egyptians as Western and therefore to be rooted out. It’s not that the Egyptian Institute wasn’t Egyptian enough. The problem was the Institute wasn’t religiously orthodox. The books kept there contained false teachings and represented idolatry. Sadly this Egyptian event isn’t unique. The final destruction of the Great Library at Alexandria was done for similar cause in 640 AD by Caliph Omar who decided the fate of Great Library based on it being Western (meaning Greece/Rome). The Caliph decreed, “If the books agree with the Koran they are superfluous and not needed. If they contradict the Koran they are improper and not needed. Burn them all”
This New Year I reflect that too much of humanity hasn’t gone beyond 640 AD and mistakenly sees destruction as achievement.