Thursday, January 17, 2008

It's a Brand New Year — eventually

My wife recently had a weekday with the kids, just a few days into 2008. On the way to drop off The Boy at school, Q interjected, "Mom, I think we forgot something — my backpack." My wife apologized for the oversight but didn't think much more about it; Q often wants to bring a backpack to The Boy's school just like he does, usually with a blanket and Purple Rabbit (or some other stuffed buddy) ensconced within.

A little later at the door of The Boy's classroom, Q took off her coat, calmly handed it to my wife, and then started after her brother into class. When my wife pulled her back out, Q was confused: "You said I get to go to school next year. Isn't it next year now?" (She really does talk like this. Honest.)

Q does have a point. It is in fact next year, so to speak, and we will send her to school, so to speak, in 2008. (She's ready, obviously.) She will turn 3 and The Boy 5. He will graduate to Real School, which is to say kindergarten. We will have and attend many parties. We will craft costumes for Halloween. We will give thanks and eat too much, probably more than once. We will make and cross off lists for Christmas. My wife and I will get achingly closer to forty and no doubt come to know our bones better.

All of this will likely happen. Eventually.

Verlyn Klinkenborg, a favorite author of mine who writes the exquisite "Rural Life" series for the New York Times, catches the New Year's moment like this:
There is something deeply gratifying about joining the horses in their pasture a few minutes before the clock strikes 12 on New Year’s Eve. What makes the night exceptional, in their eyes and mine, is my presence among them, not the lapsing of an old year.

It’s worth standing out in the snow just to savor the anticlimax of midnight, just to acknowledge that out of the tens of millions of species on this planet, only one bothers to celebrate not the passing of time, but the way it has chosen to mark the passing of time. I remember the resolutions I made when I was younger. I find myself thinking that one way to describe nature is a realm where resolutions have no meaning.

It’s not that time isn’t passing or that the night doesn’t show it. The stars are wheeling around Polaris, and the sugar maples that frame the pasture are laying down another cellular increment in their annual rings. The geese stir in the poultry yard. A hemlock sheds its snow. No two nights are ever the same.

I always wonder what it would be like to belong to a species — just for a while — that isn’t so busy indexing its life, that lives wholly within the single long strand of its being. I will never have even an idea of what that’s like.

I know because when I stand among the horses tonight, I will feel a change once midnight has come. Some need will have vanished, and I will walk back to the house — lights burning, smoke coming from the wood stove — as if something had been accomplished, some episode closed.
I think he's right that as a species — our minds designed to track and explain — we can't help but make passings into passages. Language has even taken to remembering such things for us, as when we call the markers of growth milestones, after an old means of measuring distance traveled.

Still, I don't feel the pull of the New Year like I used to. I've abandoned resolutions and callings. These days I like January 1 because we're always all together all day, wherever it falls in the week. And in any event, since kids have been in the house they've become the calendar we chart by, the determiners of rhythm. If anything, my wife and I represent something like the "single long strand of being" Klinkenborg mentions; birthdays and school and far-off family and nearly everything else can't come fast enough for Q and The Boy. We embody an age that they can't quite grasp right now, reminding them that things take time, as they probably should.

I've got this Swiss Railway Watch, made by the same company that supplies all the train stations over there with the hyper-accurate and hyper-beautiful clocks. Its date dial runs to 39 before it flips over by itself, and I woke up on New Year's Day to it reading 32. It may — for that reason alone — be the most accurate timepiece I've ever owned.

Happy New Year.

(I knew I'd get around to wishing that eventually.)


Anonymous said...

You should keep all this ''stuff'' and someday write a book. However be sure and write something about how Q likes cowboys, boots and all,just like grandpa.

Really enjoy your purusings.

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