It’s funny how we wait for the New Year to
start fresh when a new year could start at any moment. People across the world don’t even agree on when a new year starts. If you’re Julius Caesar you could just randomly decide to shove it up a couple months. Even the time of day is an arbitrary convention. We start a day at midnight but we used to start it at noon and there’s really nothing wrong with 3:18 either. Beer-thirty is as precise as we get around here, and even that has been creeping earlier and earlier during the pandemic.
But people do love the idea of a clean sheet to write on. We want to be able to count down to a moment everything can change. Back in the dark ages when I used to write longhand on a legal pad, I had entire paragraphs squashed into the margins and circles around things with arrows pointing to where they really ought to go and cross-outs and underlined bits in boxes tagged with their ultimate destinations, and then I’d sort it all out on a typewriter when I was done. A clean sheet meant little to me. All my stuff was on the marked-up sheet. I wanted every word of it and I could rassle it into shape later. I feel that way about life too. I’m not going to start over; I want to pull all those good bits out of the margins and figure out what order they go in, and what I should cross out, and there’s always room to come up with more.
Still, you get a year everyone agrees is truly a crappy year, we’re all ready to crumple up the paper and pitch it at the can, and maybe set fire to it first. So that’s what we’re going to do. Now what?
That’s when we really need to pay attention to the truth: that a new year starts every second. And that’s good news, because a lot can happen in a second.
I got the only Christmas gift I’d specifically asked for. I wanted to be able to feed Studley a Christmas worm. He doesn’t show up every day. But on Christmas morning that angel came in from on high and chikketed at me from the window, and popped around to the back door for his worm. Studley Windowson was special to me even before he demonstrated that he knew me personally and was willing to land on me (and my friends) for larvae. That was because I could pick him out from all the other chickadees. The others are every bit as worthy, but only Studley is missing two toes on his left foot. And caring about Studley leads to caring about his kids, and his food, and the native plants his food lives on, and his whole, world-wide web.
Last week I was looking at lesser goldfinches on the feeder. They’re flockers. Six years ago I didn’t even know they were a thing, and now I recognize them as among my most common visitors. I know the sounds they make and I know how incessantly and adorably they make them. The other day I noticed one of them had a white spot on her head. I didn’t know if someone had pooped on her–I mean, that has to happen sometimes, right?–so I paid attention later, and sure enough, she kept coming by, and it’s definitely part of her feathers. Dot! Now I can pick Dot out of a big chirpety bundle of birds. I can tell how she approaches the feeder a little differently, and which azalea branch she favors. I have a new bird to care about. I can care about Dot, and thus even more about the rest of her flock, and second by second my caring can expand until it fills up the whole world. It starts somewhere.
In one second, a boy soprano can lift the top of your head off and send it to the stars. In one second, as you wait out the exquisite tension before a chord resolves, you can feel that ache pulled right through your heart and come out clean on the other side. In one second, you can really notice a bird. You can love any little thing. And then you know how to love the whole world. And that will cause you to change your life faster than any resolution will.
We can all do it together. We can start anytime.