Sunday in the Park
December 29, 2011
After enough time in a life, we can reflect on the start of new years past and we can put them in categories: years with dumb parties (in the sense of dressed-up people getting sloppy and sentimental at the midnight hour) that all run together; years we slept through the whole thing by choice or illness; years when we worked either on the eve or the day, so everything was colored by The Job; and years when there was something so memorable we’ve put them in a little time capsule in our mind and revisit it from time to time.
In the past few years I’ve had some comical new years wrangling talent (that folks either loved or questioned) for performances and guests who looked to ring in the actual transition of the year together. My favorite of those was a Neville Brothers performance where we hosted a group displaced from Hurricane Katrina. There was such a blizzard that the band couldn’t get up the road to the post-concert party house and drove down to Salt Lake City to stay in a hotel before their morning flight. The guests, who had seen an amazing show that reminded them of home, came to the party grateful to be together and grateful to have survived the hurricane just months before. In the kitchen, I asked one of the women I had bonded with if she liked the food. "Honestly," she said, "it tastes a little plain." I looked around at the elegant heavy laden platters and I saw what she meant. Plenty of veggies and lovely meats and cheeses and little finger foods. She put her arm around me and said, "You should have asked us to cook." And in an instant I had an epiphany: I should have. I should have included them in the festivities, not just offered them up. They would have been happy to have helped, they would have contributed in their unique way, it would have been fun, and we would have had amazing authentic food.
There was the outdoor start to a new year I enjoyed years ago when I lived at Lake Tahoe. A bunch of single folks took off with bota bags and backpacks on cross-country skis under a full moon and clear skies. We reached our destination just before midnight and built a little fire and sang dumb songs and laughed a lot. We all skied out safely, still singing, and bonded in a way that has lasted all these many years.
Sometimes the turn of the calendar pages feels more complete for me on the full next day. Football and black-eyed peas for good luck. Ski days. Long drives when no one is on the roads to shoot photos or just reflect. Time in the monastery in Huntsville listening to the monks chant and eating a giant burger at The Shooting Star Bar. Starting a new journal or novel. Watching a new movie in a darkened theater with a friend.
This year it feels like the world is shifting so fast that I need to carve out a space and time for a ritual, a ceremony marking the leaving behind and the embracing of some unknown. It makes me wonder if the druids and pagans weren’t far more spiritual than we ever gave them credit for. The marking of the seasons with the lighting of candles and repeating chants sounds and looks a great deal like modern religion but without all the politics and dogma. And I am in need of a good new to me old tradition to shift the winds around me. I may still crack the new book I just received, go for a drive, shoot some photos, but in the process I will be lighting candles, building fires, and finding places and ways to get still. Finding ways to cook rooted foods and soothing baked goods. Finding ways to savor the tea and the wine.
When my children were little, I had them write notes at the end of the holidays about what they wished for the year ahead and which things concerned them in the present. I had them stick those notes in the toes of their stockings. Then, 11 months later, they would unpack those stockings and unpack those wishes and fears. Did they learn to play that instrument? Did the mean girl no longer matter? Did they get that driver’s license, get into college? As the years marched on, the notes took on different, deeper meanings.
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And then, I don’t know when, we stopped. They had their own homes with their own stockings and eventually with their own children. This year I just might suggest my children pass on that tradition to their children. I might. If I can do it in a way that doesn’t sound like "You Must." At the very least, I know I can, without anyone’s knowledge or involvement, write a note to myself this New Year’s Day, filled with gratitude for the year just passed, and regret, and some sadness. I can throw in very real hopes and fears. It seems like a small thing to do to mark the passing of the moons, but I can light a candle to write by, and feel connected and still separate, as I enter 2012 this very Sunday in the Park …
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the organization that provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.