There is no natural law that establishes January as the beginning of a new year. The origins of it being considered so are rooted in the Roman worship of Janus, who was the two-faced God of Portals; therefore, he could simultaneously look both backwards and forwards as we are wont to do at the ending of one trip around the sun and the beginning of another. In fact, in ancient Mesopotamia, they celebrated the New Year in conjunction with the vernal equinox that occurs around March 20th and ushers in the spring season.
The truth is I’ve never been much of a “spring” kind of guy. Rather, I’ve always been an autumnal sort of person. I like fall fashions, food, falling leaves, and football (I ran out of Fs). Some folks find that preference to be morbid or pessimistic as, symbolically, we associate the season with decay, dying, and denouement. But as a schoolteacher, it’s springtime that closes my work year, terminates my time with my current class of seniors, which, in the words of Janis Joplin, “takes another little piece of my heart,” and inspires me to ruminate on the general ending of things.
If you follow my blog, however, you might recall that my New Year’s resolution this year is to press the reset button on my life in order to “be better” even in what are certainly my autumn years when old dogs typically turn their noses away from learning new tricks. However, I’ve grow determined to believe what Tennyson writes in his poem “Ulysses:” “Tis not too late . . . to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.” This year, I’ve also coopted as my own the one-word motto of the University of Rochester, which I find to be similarly inspiring: Meliora, which is Latin for “ever better.” It suggests – as Tennyson also advises in “Ulysses” – that one must “drink life to the lees” in a nonstop effort to achieve personal and social betterment.
As a result, I’m trying really hard to embrace the idea of “springing forward.” The only other option really is stasis, to stay the same, stagnant and stuck (Oops, I did the alliteration thing again.). The reality is – as much as I might like to go backwards and try harder, undo mistakes, apologize for my occasional boneheaded behaviors and transgressions, or re-live the good times – there is no returning to the past. There is no “R” on the gearshift of life. Therefore, I choose to remove the rearview mirrors and go forward with the intent to become “ever better.” (Please pardon the banal and cliche metaphors of the previous sentences. They sound like they’ve been stolen from every bad graduation speech I’ve ever sat through.)
Alexander Pope, the great English Enlightenment-era poet observed that “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.” This is never more the case than in the actual springtime. Nature blows it in with the promise of new life, new opportunities, and second or maybe even final chances to start living it right. I think Pope was referring to the kind of hope that inspires us to believe as Adam Duritz of The Counting Crows sings in “Long December,” “There’s reason to believe maybe this year will be better than the last.” To me, human beings’ capacity for hope – even after the coldest and darkest winters of their lives – is what truly makes us no less than remarkable creatures.
It is that springtime-like capacity for hope that no matter how shitty yesterday may have been or today is, tomorrow things are going to be better and the never ending commitment to the pursuit of personal and community betterment that is providing me with purpose in my autumnal days. I invite you to join me in this epic pursuit, for as Tennyson also rightly claims in “Ulysses,” “Some work of noble note, may yet be done.”
Oh, and Happy New Year!
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