Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 > 2013: The most wonderful time of the year

THE NEW-generation holiday LED lights are a positive thing for the environment. They’re smaller in size but they generate the same amount of light as the older, mini-incandescent bulbs while using less energy, saving you money. This would be a wonderful thing if only they weren’t tasked with illuminating this holiday season, when all the LED technology in the country can’t move the darkness that feels … everywhere right now.

Oh, the shopping numbers will apparently be pretty good, when it’s all settled. The Retail Federation of America reports that 2012 holiday shopping will total an estimated $586 billion, according to its most recent forecast. That’s up more than four percent.

But still. This was the holiday season that didn’t feel like the holiday season. And we all know why. At the end of the day, the Christmas holiday season that right or wrong predominates in our culture is all about the children. By definition, Christmas is about children. And it’s hard to reconcile an ancient birth in the Holy Land with the deaths of twenty innocents in a contemporary instant in a small Connecticut town.

And then there’s the economy, our economic futures and finances on a knife-edge, utterly dependent on what Washington does, or fails to do. And the gnawing fear that things may not turn around, or at least turn around fast enough to save us from the undertow, that dogged toothache feeling of everything moving too fast and out of your control, no matter what you do. What next? we ask ourselves, with more than a pinch of dread.

It’s not saying much when the real “most wonderful time of the year” is right before that year ends.

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But not to overdo the downbeat. The year definitely had its high points. President Obama won re-election in a presidential contest that, we know now, was never as close as many had hoped or as many others had feared. And coincident with that big win, downticket contests resulted in victories for women, minorities, marriage equality and personal liberties across the United States. People stood up for the right to vote when people in certain quarters thought they never would.

The great immigration divide got narrower this year, giving hope to people for whom hope deeply matters. The Supreme Court upheld Obamacare constitutionally, cementing the infrastructure for the greatest leap toward universal health care in the nation’s history. The year just ending is the safest for commercial air travel ever. They finally got Abraham Lincoln right in the movies.

And we all had a global adrenaline rush back on Oct. 14, when in the middle of the nonstop chaos around us everywhere, Felix Baumgartner, an Austrian adventurer with titanium stones and a daring to match his outsize convictions, took a high-tech balloon to an altitude of 128,000 feet above this ball of confusion … and jumped.

And plummeted at a free-fall top speed of 834 miles an hour, shattering altitude and speed records. And landed, seven minutes later, without so much as a stumble, like it was a walk in the freakin’ park.

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WE NEEDED stunts like that this year. We needed things that, when you think about it, weren’t so much “stunts” as events symbolic of what we were capable of, if we had the nerve. I'm not talking about a literal leap from the stratosphere; Baumgartner made that look easy, made it look almost elegant and effortless (even though we know it wasn’t).

But it’s about to be the New Year. It’s time for leaps from our own respective stratospheres. It’s the time for leaps of faith. We took some memorable ones this year. It’s an overworked literary reference (thank you Charles Dickens), but it’s true for 2012: it was the best and worst of years. The president was re-elected by a fat margin; and the nation began coming around to the idea that, you know what, LGBT people deserve to get married like anyone else, and smoking pot is nobody’s damned business but yours.

And that election and the panoramic human tapestry that made it possible seemed to say something hopeful: We’ve had enough with lies, mendacity, obstruction. We’re tired of walking around looking and feeling wounded by forces we can’t control, forces we sometimes can’t even understand.

Like the malign energy that led a troubled suburban kid to kill 20 schoolchildren, eight adults and himself.

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Even in the face of those forces, we’ll get it up tomorrow, one foot in front of the other, realizing that the New Year is as much about looking forward as it is about looking back. It’s more about looking forward than it is about looking back. It has to be. It better be.

“What’s next?” is a question with dual applications. In one context, it’s an implicit anticipation of things getting worse and worse. In another, the one we need right now, it’s a heads-up anticipation of a future more hopeful. And whether that “what’s next,” that future spreads out over the next 50 years or the time it takes to walk outside and get hit by a bus … whatever it is, if you’re like me, you want it. All of it. Every minute on the clock, every mile on the meter. And nothing (besides birthdays, of course)  celebrates that idea quite like how we feel about the New Year.

“So this is the new year,” Death Cab for Cutie once observed. “And I don’t feel any different.”

Really? I do. Bring it. Let’s go. Onward. We got this.

Image credits: Christmastime in Newtown: David Goldman/Associated Press. President Obama and Vice President Biden: Spencer Platt/Getty Images. Baumgartner: Balasz Gardi/Red Bull Stratos.

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