Un próspero año nuevo

If you stop and think about it, New Year and its eve are odd things to celebrate. We know time is an abstract, human concept.  We know it is relative: the world uses the Gregorian calendar and tomorrow is 2018, but it is 4713 in the Chinese calendar, 5778 in the Jewish calendar, and 2561 in the Buddhist calendar. So what difference does it make?

Even the precise time of the calendar change is relative. North America is the last continent to experience it, and New York City is the focus. I recall as a child celebrating the New Year as it was broadcast live from NYC, even though we lived in the central time zone in Indiana. Now we can watch as cities in every time zone cross the New Year and celebrate, all in realtime. But why celebrate it at all?

That such celebrations are universal is undeniable. All those calendars I mentioned have a New Year’s Day, with its accompanying celebration. Even long-dead cultures left behind stories of celebration of a change in the annual cycle. It all points to one thing: the fundamental optimism of the human race. It seems that people everywhere and in all times hope for better times with the change of that calendar page.

Optimism is a double-edge sword. I know people who invest great time and energy trying to ensure the very best New Year’s eve date, party, or event, only to feel disappointment creeping into their midnight countdown. Now we all know the fate of our year is not determined by New Year’s eve, but what accounts for all that optimism in the first place?

Certainly human history holds no cause for such optimism: last century was the bloodiest yet, and one in which we eventually developed multiple means to destroy humanity or the planet itself, belying the notion of “the right side of history.” Why would history have an arc that bends toward morality, or liberty, or love for that matter? Of course, some (including me) believe history is unfolding according to a plan, although this guarantees nothing positive in the meantime, just a positive finale.

Perhaps that optimism we all feel is a tiny residue of a deeper longing that one day everything will be better. This is rightly called Hope, and it is not the same as optimism. We often use the word hope casually to indicate something we wish would happen. Hope is actually a form of trust: we hope things will end well because we have been assured, or promised, they will. So while history and our own experiences will often provide an overwhelming rebuttal to our optimism, hold on to the hope. Hope is a good thing.

Of course, one quiet day sometime after the New Year, ask yourself this: Not only what do you hope for, but why do you hope?

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