What three words did you say more than any others in the last week?
My bet is on, “Happy New Year.” And although the other predictable answer was high on the list, I decided to take my stand on those three words. They can signify something beyond the mechanical act of turning the page of a calendar. They can be more evocative than the celebratory ritual of watching a Waterford Crystal Times Square Ball makes its descent at the “Crossroads of the World.” Whether that’s done in person in the Eastern Standard Time Zone or in dozens of other time zones across this country and around the globe, I felt I owed it to the first two words spoken to so many at the dawning of 2019, to look more deeply into the meanings of the newness of the year celebrated across the globe as midnight signaled a passage from then to now.
And so I invite you to join me as we start from our urban village to take a care-full look at that we wish when we wish others a year that is truly “new.” And that’s not just because I’m a bit intimidated by defining something as deeply personal as “happy.” That may have to wait for another day.
One of my favorite descriptions of “new” is found in a poem by my favorite Gerard Manley Hopkins. His word of encouragement ensures that new is not scarily unfamiliar. In one of his sonnets, he includes these comforting words about what is new.
”There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went.
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs.”
So there it was. The new is right there in the deep places from which dreams and hopes emerge. That sets “new” apart from what is merely novel. A good place from which to start when wishing people a year that is truly new.
Then I received a post that had a December 31 dateline. It was forwarded to me by my dear, good friend Farrell Cosmas who knew I would “get” what she had been sent by the friend who was their “priest” when she and her family lived in Chevy Chase. In that “Monday Matters” post were seven brief quotes. They ranged from Isaiah’s promise that he would make them “hear new things, hidden things that you have not known.” The last of the quoted passages was from Paul’s letter to his friends in Corinth, promising “a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new.”
But for me, the “capper” was the post’s short essay on the power of the word “whenever.” It separated that word from all the other ones that might suggest that making wrong choices is not an unlikely, once in a lifetime misfortune. Given that such choices are likely to be frequent, the reassuring thing readers were reminded is that “whenever” they occur there will be ways to find a new path forward, because as Farrell’s friend noted, “God is in the forgiveness business.” And so, the “Premise and the Promise” are that there is always a way for a brave breed of see it/say it as it is folk (for which read: realistic enough to be courageous). To me, this is just the message all would be wise to keep in mind as they express a “Happy New Year” wish to friends, family and strangers we pass on walks in our diverse urban villages.
As I write, our government is shut down and people who need them are not getting the paychecks they depend upon; for reasons most of them would not have signed on for if they’d had the option. In times of uncertainty, it seems vital to speak and to hear that a new day is not beyond our power to achieve. Maybe even to believe that a new day is on the horizon. That we will find a way to share what the iconic New Year Anthem Auld Lang Syne describes as “a cup of Kindness.” That “whenever” we have fallen short of the ideals our Founders; or those of the Creator portrayed as the welcoming parent of a Prodigal Son, we do indeed have the power to start anew.
Good reasons to say and believe “Happy New Year.”
Top photo: Bigstock