It’s all symbols and metaphors, performances and rituals and spells and invocations. Like weddings and funerals; like wiping the day off your face before bed each night, and taking your antidepressant pills – religiously – first thing each morning. Like going to church on Sundays, kissing the glass-fronted icon of a saint, lighting a candle and sealing your prayers with the sign of the cross; like smudging your house with sage to clear the energy, holding a crystal up to the full moon, or branding your skin with an image of Ganesh, Remover of Obstacles, lest you find any in your path that you can’t remove yourself. Like saying good morning before anything else; like saying I love you, after. Like pandering to an arbitrary calendar event that declares the end of one thing and the beginning of another, sending fireworks up into the sky to mark a change in numerals.
Which brings us to New Year’s Eve, at precisely one minute to midnight. Am I pandering? I had no intention of staying up for the changing of the year; I’m often in bed by nine, and asleep by ten or eleven, depending on how interesting the book I’m reading is. The sun sets at five thirty, and night comes thick and determined, here; there are few electric lights to challenge its dominion over the hours of darkness. I get up at dawn. Sunrise and sunset, the spectrum of daylight, rain, sleet and muddy fields, and winds that knock you off your feet, the seasons: those aren’t arbitrary; they can be named, but never tamed. Clocks and calendars and omnipotent gods, those are the things that we’ve invented, the boundaries we’ve set for ourselves. We are both their creators and their subjects, and we pander to them compulsively, religiously, with our rituals, adhering to invented timelines to establish a measure of control over our lives, while we put our faith in invented deities, so that it’s all ultimately someone else’s responsibility. And when the clock strikes midnight on December 31st, we must wear our best clothes and send light and noise up to the sky, and kiss whoever’s standing next to us when the countdown ends, and wrap the year up neatly, tightly, so that none of it spills into the next, and start anew – in this brand new year, unblemished except for the judgements we carry on our backs, and the resolutions – remedial measures – that we send forward to greet us.
I didn’t intend to stay up, nor did I intent to not stay up, exactly – though a part of me wanted to make a point. I was getting ready for bed, just gone ten thirty, when my friend Ela rang from Sheffield, so we chatted for a while. Until she said, ‘I’d better let you go, I’m sure the fireworks are about to start,’ and I laughed and said ‘Yeah, all four of them,’ and wished her a happy Greek new year. Midnight found me in my pyjamas, in the company of my cats, who were largely unaffected by the celebrations except they didn’t like the fireworks (all four of them) and it took me ten minutes to coax them out from behind the washing machine so I could give them New Year kisses. Then I went to bed, and ate some crisps, and read for a while. I woke up at dawn, to a message from another friend wishing me a happy new year. ‘Peaceful,’ he added, and it was exactly what I wanted, what I wish for him and for myself. As the arbitrary numbers of age add up, I find more and more that this is what I crave: peace. The kittens purred outside my bedroom door.
Nothing has changed, you know. You know it; we all do. But we need our rituals and our symbols, we need the semblance of control and the lack of it. We need to believe in things bigger than ourselves, because to realise we’re the biggest thing there is, to realise our power, might send us all cowering behind the washing machine. Power is both a blessing and a curse, and that wise, ancient part in all of us, the part that knows, invented the gods to assign it to, to place it outside of ourselves, and the rituals to invoke it and draw it back in. We cannot tame the darkness, but we can call it “night” and get through, so we can rise again each morning and take our pills. That’s how we survive, with our metaphors and our symbols and our performances, while the ancient (divine) part looks on with a knowing smile, pandering to our humanity. And if New Year’s Eve is the spell by which we invoke the imperative to begin anew, so be it. I only hope, I only wish for all of us to remember, sometimes, that we are the fireworks and come out from behind the washing machine, and not to wrap ourselves too tight, too neat, too small, in judgements and resolutions, but to allow our essence, our power, to spill messily out of the timelines and the boundaries and into everything we cannot control, and, there, find the peace that each of us craves.
A happy new year to all of us. Peaceful.