I don’t remember when I started tracking the years from birthday to birthday, but I was still a teen when it happened. I was born at the end of August, on what often seemed to be the hottest day of the year (I’ve never liked the 90+degrees and 99% humidity of August’s last gasps) and always envisioned it as the bottom of a pit that the calendar would slowly raise me out of and cool me off. I should never have fallen into this infernal trap, since it’s led me to see the world from a kind of skewed position that never corrects itself.
My year begins on a glorious note: The days get cooler right away, and herald the wonderful fall to come. The first day of school is blessedly softened by the first weekend of football. Cheerleaders dance, guys take dates to the games and dreams of glory fill the cool night air. Soon the leaves begin to change and pumpkins are artfully carved in anticipation of All Hallows Eve, when spirits are thought to be loosed on the land for a night before the feast of All Saints drives them back. (Ah! Such lighthearted fun.)
And soon enough “The Holidays” begin in earnest: Thanksgiving, although secular in origin, sets the seasonal tone by giving thanks to the Creator (in Christian life, at least) for the gifts of the harvest and hearth. Oh, we seem never to run out of turkeys to slaughter to celebrate the season; but even for those for whom a cold turkey sandwich on black Friday doesn’t bring shivers of joy, the turkeys’ demise has become part of the splendor of the event and who am I to argue? And by now the Christmas decorations have been carefully placed everywhere (some for months) and a strange thing begins to happen: My favorite phenomenon of the year starts to take hold all over the world: People begins wishing each other well.
Now, I don’t mean to sound naive, but after the first tired, hesitant “Merry Xmases” you hear, they seem to become “Merry Christmasses” after time, and eventually you know in your heart that every one of them is sincerely directed and spoken with true meaning and well wishes. By Christmas Day we are all genuinely convinced that at least our nearest and dearest are actually hoping for good things for us, now and through the coming year. I love this feeling, and look forward to it more than any one thing in life.
A week later the official new year begins, and we all have hopes for the future. And here is the let-down: By the beginning of February all those well-wishing friends are ignoring or avoiding us. They’re busy trying to figure out how to cheat on their taxes this year, or how to “get one over” on us and make a buck in the process. The snow is piling up outdoors, and people who’ve lived up north all their lives are offended and almost surprised by the potholes, bad driving decisions, and general stupidity of their fellow men. It’s like none of this has ever happened before. And of course, a “Happy New Year” or even “I wish you all the best” would be greeted by a quick remark or a punch in the eye.
This is the setting into which we usher the Christian season of lent, a forty-day-long bout of guilt and depression in which we acknowledge the torture and death of Jesus, largely because of our own wicked and sinful behavior. By Easter, when He is supposed to be celebrated for having delivered us from the punishments we so richly deserve, we are too deeply depressed and guilty to do much more than slink away to lick our wounded egos.
With the advancement of spring there is a slight reprieve. The rains seem to wash some of the gray from the land, and we begin to enjoy things again. Golf, boating, swimming, even just walking come back into our daily routines, But for me it just means the end is near. The heat will engulf everything, the oppressively muggy lakeside air will resist even a slight breeze, and a long dry summer punctuated by fireworks and gunfire will inevitably lead me to the end of my year and the beginning of another. There ought to be a better yardstick to mark the passing of a year in this life.