For all the hoopla generated, there is really little visible change as one year melts into the next. Oh, the occasional new calendar page pops up here and there. And, of course, it may take several weeks to write a different digit at the end of the date – without thinking about it.
For me, the annual end-of-year transition is largely psychological. But as I spent last week taking a final look at 2016 and preparing for 2017, I also found myself experiencing a range of emotions, both anticipated and unexpected.
It was sadness I felt when Berlin joined Nice, Orlando, Aleppo and Brussels – among many more – as yet another side of incomprehensibly-deliberate death and destruction. The scenes on my television screen showed the tragic interruption of Berlin’s holiday celebration at one of its traditional Christmas markets.
My mind, however, recalled the Berlin my student travelers and I visited in the bright sunlight of so many summers. Our tours of the city always included historical and political points of interest: the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, the Brandenburg Gate – as well as Olympic Stadium, where US champion Jesse Owens stunned the Germans with his victories.
Our visit also included the very site of last week’s attack. A pockmarked spire of the huge church that dominated the area until its bombing in 1943 is known today as the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. The historical remnant stands as silent witness to the destruction of another war in another year.
And so, as tourists and customers enjoyed Christmas traditions at quaint booths surrounding the memorial church, they became victims of another inexplicable expression of hatred at the very time most are seeking peace around the globe.
Not particularly emotional but endlessly fascinating is the monumental rereading task I will continue in the new year: The Glory and the Dream by William Manchester. Some twenty years ago I made it through the 1,400-page narrative history of America for 1932 – 1972 and last summer decided on a redo.
I was particularly intrigued to read that Manchester considered 1935 “a kind of technological watershed.” During this “crude beginning of the electronics industry,” according to the author, the fledgling concept of automation would eventually eliminate elevator operators, bowling alley pin boys, billing clerks, and a thousand other skilled and unskilled jobs. Sounds familiar…
Also in 1935 Gallup conducted his first poll, the film industry produced the first motion picture in Technicolor, major league baseball played its first night game (in Cincinnati), and the beer can came into existence. What a year!
In the new year I will continue to read through Manchester’s tome, simultaneously marveling at our nation’s progress and wincing at our collective insistence on ignoring historical repetition. And I will continue to wonder how future historians will assess our current times 82 years from now – when the Baby Boomers are long gone and the millennials will be wistfully reminiscing about the good old days of 2017.
It could very well be peer pressure when I think about resolutions at this time of year. Based on self-knowledge and past personal history, however, I long ago gave up torturing myself with lists of promises to be completely abandoned by mid-January.
Instead, I will continue an annual tradition I established when I moved to my current home: each year I make one major “upgrade” to my house. One year I added a deck, and last year I replaced my furnace.
This year I am adding a couple of new open-ended categories. I plan to finish something I started some time ago; one of several cross-stitch projects will qualify. I will also do something I have long thought I cannot do. Check with me in a year…
Most importantly, as one year bows out and a new one dawns, I need a good dose of inspiration. I find it essential to face a new set of 365 days with uplifting thoughts. To that end I have chosen three quotations to serve as touchstones for 2017.
For pure hope in the future, I will turn to this thought from Carl Sagan: “Somewhere something incredible is waiting to be known.”
For encouragement to keep my thoughts at a high level, I will hold Eleanor Roosevelt’s astute observation front and center: “Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people.”
And for a worthy daily mantra, I will look for guidance to the words of Mother Teresa, “If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway. If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway. The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway. Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway.”
I am making one final deal with myself, a promise for the entire year of 2017: I will start in January with an empty jar to fill with notes about the good things that happen. On New Year’s Eve, I will read my way through the jar to remember all the wonderful things that happened throughout the year.
My jar is ready. It is a big one! With my reading, my challenges to myself, and my ongoing search for inspiration, it should be full by this time next year!
I am wishing us all a great 2017!