Monday, January 07, 2008

Auld Lang Syne

It is midnight. I walk outside onto the deck and lift my chin toward the sky full of stars. Like loose diamonds tossed across a navy blue velvet cloth in some colossal jewelry store, they take my breath away.

And when I finally release it, a tiny puff of silver floats away from my open mouth into the chilly darkness and dissolves like cotton candy.

New Year's Eve is generally pretty quiet in the country. More than once the clock has ticked (or, more accurately, the LED display has changed) moving Sandhill and the world into a new year without any notice at all. Not by me, not by the dogs, certainly not by the owl who lives in the branch behind the house or the deer whose Valentine-shaped hoofprints edge the dirt road like lace. We country creatures tend to have ended our days long before the countdown begins in Times Square.

This year, though, I have made it a point to stay awake, to be conscious and thinking upon the arrival of the leap year, election year, Olympic year. I have lit lots of candles, understanding something of the uncertainty of the ancient peoples who kept a fire burning through the darkest night of the year, and have given myself over to the kind of rambling contemplation that generally leads me to the surprising conclusion that I've not been paying nearly enough attention to my life.

I try to focus on this moment. I feel the dryer-warmth pass from the towels I am folding into the palms of my hands. I breathe in the scent of almond as I rub lotion into those same hands, dry and red from all the sink-washing of the "good dishes." I stop and stare at the Christmas tree, the ornaments round and reflective, the lights a stark contrast to the darkness that has quickly covered the day.

In Wales, the winter solstice is called "the point of roughness," an idea that brings to mind the fingertips of a safe-cracker or a reader of Braille. Inflicted tenderness.

Not a particularly attractive idea in a society where easy and painless are what people want in everything from plastic surgery to divorce. To intentionally court sensitivity seems to be the height of ingratitude for the various products and mechanisms and therapies we have devised to make life easier. Which leads one to the question, "Is that what life is supposed to be? Easy?"

I am sitting at my desk now. On the edge is a wicker tray I've filled with totems, objects that remind me of where I've been, who was there with me, what I learned. A piece of red coral, a seashell, a cast iron acorn that holds a key, a framed notecard that reads, "It will all be okay in the end. If it's not okay, it's not the end."

Right outside the window, the owl swoops close enough to rustle the too-long branches on the shrubbery and opens his mouth to the long mournful cry I have grown to love.

Time passes. Two hours until midnight. One hour until midnight. Thirty minutes. Five minutes. Ten seconds.

"Five ... four ... three ..." the voice on the radio whispers into the microphone on the stage of the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. "Two ... one ... Happy New Year."

It is midnight. I walk outside onto the deck and lift my chin toward the sky full of stars. I hold myself tightly against the chill. A new year. I take a deep breath and raise a glass to whatever is out there. Easy or not.

Copyright 2008

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