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Slices of Life: New Year’s Eve Ponderings

Belmont Patch columnist Lisa Gibalerio also has a reading of a timely tale.

The steps at Salem City Hall. (Salem Patch)
The steps at Salem City Hall. (Salem Patch)

Written by Belmont Patch columnist Lisa Gibalerio

This morning, in between attempts to organize and put away the Christmas decorations, I turned to a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne that I read each New Year’s Eve day. From his Twice-Told Tales collection, the story is called “The Sister Years.” Published in 1839, it begins:

“Last Night, between eleven and twelve o’clock, when the Old Year was leaving her final foot-prints on the borders of Time’s empire, she found herself in possession of a few spare moments, and sat down – of all places in the world – on the steps of our new City Hall….”

(Those steps, by the way, are still there in Salem, Massachusetts. I visited them recently and was overwhelmed to find myself in the exact location of this inspired tale.)

The piece goes on to describe the Old Year as “weary of body and sad of heart.” As she catches her breath on the steps of the new City Hall, along flits the sprightly New Year. In contrast, she is described as confident, pleasant looking, and full of both promise and hopefulness. The Old Year and the New Year are sisters, of course, both the daughters of Time.

In the few moments they share together, before the Old Year fades away and the New Year begins her journey, the sisters talk. The Old Year, forlorn and jaded, expresses regret for all that was not accomplished and warns her sibling that: “If these ridiculous people ever see any thing tolerable in you, it will be after you are gone forever.”

But the New Year is cheerful, despite her sister’s cynicism: “I shall try to leave men wiser than I find them. I will offer them freely whatever good gifts Providence permits me to distribute, and will tell them to be thankful for what they have, and humbly hopeful for more; and surely, if they are not absolute fools, they will condescend to be happy, and will allow me to be a happy Year.”

And so it goes.

As another year comes to a close, we think back on the year that has passed and wonder about the year ahead.  Like the Old Year in Hawthorne’s tale, it is difficult not to remember the year that passed without evoking sadness and regret.

The year got off to a devastating start for us here in Belmont with the sudden death of Dan Scharfman.  Dan, who would have turned 56 today, continues to be mourned and missed by many in this town. In the very last conversation I ever had with him, it will surprise absolutely no one that he offered me help, advice, and comfort. This is how I will always remember Dan – helpful, wise, and generous.

It seems when one looks back over the past 12 months, the horrible stories jump out, whether locally or more broadly.  No one around here needs to be reminded of the Boston Marathon bombings, but I’m also remembering the fertilizer plant explosion in West Texas, the 19 firefighters who died in Arizona, the George Zimmerman trial, chaos erupting in Syria, tornadoes in the Midwest, and a catastrophic typhoon in the Philippines.

Good things happened too, right? The Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act and at least six states legalized gay marriage. The College of Cardinals elected a new Pope who really cares about poor people, and the Red Sox became baseball champions of the world.

As for the year ahead, like the New Year sister, I too find myself hopeful. What do I hope for? Just the usual things: that peace prevails over war, that fewer kids go to bed hungry, that Congress gets something/anything done … .

On this, the eve of a new year, I leave you with the words of Emerson, Lake and Palmer:

I wish you a brave new year –

All anguish, pain and sadness 

Leave your heart and let your road be clear.

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