Friday, January 1, 2016

New Year's Day, 2016

Inch by inch, and row by row,
Gonna make this garden grow.
All it takes is a rake and a hoe
And a piece of fertile ground.
Inch by inch, and row by row,
Someone bless these seeds I sow.
Someone warm them from below
'Til the rains come tumbling down.

New Year’s Day is my favorite day of the year.

This is me and my siblings at Christmas, sometime in the 70s.

When I was a kid, Christmas was my favorite holiday. I think it is for a lot of kids. Santa and presents and candy and no school — it’s a perfect storm of a holiday when you’re a kid! As I got older, though, I began to think that maybe Thanksgiving was my favorite. I have always loved the way it’s nearly impossible to cash in on a holiday that simply asks its participants to slow down and consider all the wonder and beauty in their lives. You gotta admit: That’s pretty great. And as all the major holidays go, Thanksgiving is a bit of an underdog, coming as it does between Halloween and Christmas, two very over-hyped and commercial holidays whose original meanings tend to get lost in the retail frenzy that precedes them.

I still love Thanksgiving, but over the last few years, I’ve come to really look forward to New Year’s Day. I’ve learned from my Jewish friends and relations that in the Hebrew calendar, the New Year comes in September with Rosh Hashanah. It follows the agricultural cycle, so the Jewish year ends with the harvest. The new year begins with a clean slate after Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement. Here’s the best, most beautiful aspect of the Jewish New Year: The Day of Atonement is when you look back at your year and both seek and grant forgiveness. You promise to do better in the coming year. Now THAT’S the essence of New Year’s Day for me.

In my family, we have a tradition of taking a New Year’s Day hike. And because we’re Southerners, we nearly always have a big pot of black-eyed peas with the leftover Christmas ham bone. It’s interesting to take a hike at this time of year, especially on a familiar and well-loved trail. It looks bleak and quiet, but if you scratch the surface, you are reminded of the riotous life lurking literally right below the surface.

I love looking out at the expanse of the year ahead of me. Maybe it’s because I’m from Oklahoma, but I imagine the year spreading out before me like an unbroken horizon of prairie, seemingly endless in all directions. There are so many possibilities hidden within that beautiful vista! The mistakes and shortcomings of the previous year begin to drain away as I am filled with the wonder of so many chances to make amends, to atone, to forgive. And to plant seeds, both literally and metaphorically, that have the glorious potential to bear fruit in the coming year.

The road away from the family farm in Oklahoma. (photo by Jim Lightfoot)
Happy New Year,


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