Every New Year’s eve seems like the brink of something momentous. As though we are suddenly standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon looking into a vast uncharted space where anything can happen. A second chance at things left behind in the old year. A significant mark on the graph of life.
I’ve celebrated this significant moment in many spectacular ways in years past commemorating the glory that such a transition is in a way that matched the perceived momentousness of the event.
I’ve spent it on a revolving dance floor in front of the fog machine in Ybor City in Florida. I’ve watched glorious fireworks lighting up the night sky amongst hundreds of people in Las Vegas and Boston. I’ve brought back shiny stars and conical paper caps after parties in Calcutta.
And yet, this year was about a quiet walk by myself along the river towards a train station and a town square near the place I live. All urban, concrete, full of shadows, strangely quiet because of the cold at night.
At first it seemed odd walking in the freezing temperatures by myself at this time of the night, under the street lights with my palms hidden in my jacket pockets and my chin buried in my woollen scarf, my eyes constantly checking for cracks in the pavement where the heels of my long boots might get caught. A time when I should perhaps have been doing something momentous to mark this important passing of the year.
At first there was no one in sight in the semi-darkness even though this is a heavily populated place. But soon a group of people from the next lane emerged with yellow plastic bags in their hand. Grocery bags from the local store. Perhaps they had bought eggs for breakfast tomorrow, January 1st, seemingly oblivious to the imminent birth of the New Year, just like any other day, perhaps even a week’s worth of milk, maybe some pears that were on a deal.
Maybe the tired young girl at the checkout counter with her makeup on the brink of completely rubbing off after the long day had gotten impatient waiting for the manager to come by to ratify a complicated coupon the old lady had taken out of her ancient purse. Both young girl and old lady were impatient to go home to pass the momentous ushering of the new year in blessed sleep.
A group of youngsters, this time dressed in really nice coats and fresh makeup and just a bit of unsteadiness in their gait walked briskly by. There was a jauntiness in their pace, some embarrassed laughter on the part of the guys, some serious lack of warm coats in some of the girls that told me they were out for a night befitting the ushering of the New Year at Times Square. Sure enough they walked towards the train station which would take them to Manhattan within walking distance of Times Square to see the ball drop at the stroke of midnight.
As I neared the entrance to a mall along the way to the town square I saw a set of young people whose gait was very different. There was no apparent objective in the way they thronged around, nowhere in particular that they were going. Just lots of laughter that sounded mellifluous to my ears in the cold, dark night, and some erratic waving of arms and nodding of heads and giggling.
Someone blew a festive whistle, the kind that unfurls when you blow on it and then coils back. A girl with a tiara. Reminded me of my childhood New Year’s eve parties in Calcutta and the numerous kinds of plastic whistles and conical paper hats we collected–butterfly shapes and ladybug shapes in pink and fluorescent green and white.
Along the way I saw a Starbucks on the edge of the river. At this hour, it was mostly loners like me in there by themselves with laptops or just coffee, welcoming this momentous event by themselves in their daily jackets and daily selves in their daily haunts. Comfortable, warm, content.
I came back to the warmth of the apartment myself after a while and spent the next hours in quietness until midnight. Finally, the moment arrived announced loudly on CNN. Fortunately, I could see a vast expanse of the Hudson river and the night sky with a stretch of Manhattan and Brooklyn and Governors Island and Jersey City from where I was.
All the fireworks started together lighting up the night sky in a spectacular fashion from Jersey City and several parts of Brooklyn at the stroke of midnight. The many coloured sparkling showers ushered in the new year like many comets in the sky at once.
My eye travelled to a solitary figure along the river in a hoodie with a coffee cup in his hand rushing along the river bank trying to get the best view. He was all alone against the vast expanse of the dark river dotted by some street lights.
In that moment I discovered that I was more interested in that human figure than in all the momentousness around me in all its glory.
Humans. People. People and their everyday selves. That is what really fascinated me. The way that guy walked. What he must have been thinking.
My own thoughts started drifting. Suddenly it struck me how we think of our own lives as a collection of momentous memories. A collection of big events like in a badly written history book. Weddings, funerals, births, big moves, important accolades.
The everyday disappears within those big memories just as life disappears condensed in a resume of it.
When the ushering in of 2013 would be shown all over the world the next day, we would only see the ball drop many, many times with the fireworks. No one would think of the moment as the moment when the grocery store check-out-counter girl finally got to go home or the old lady turned over in her bed or the man in the Starbucks finally clicked on the send button of his one hundred and fiftieth job application this year.
Ironically, when I would be calling my mother thousands of miles away in India, I would be describing the fireworks, not my walk or the yellow grocery bags on New Year’s eve.
Distance has a way of swallowing up life and experience reducing it to the bare bones of events by weeding out everyday existence as unnecessary.
And she would be telling me that this year there has been no lights, no parties, no fireworks on New Year’s eve in Calcutta. Only candlelight vigils in important places as the nation mourns the passing of a hapless girl just a few days back.
Even that news would reach me impoverished by distance removing the immediacy of the pain and the anger and the distress of a nation in mourning so far away on the banks of a foreign river without the presence of the thousands and thousands of men and women who have come out in protest.
©bottledworder, 2013. https://bottledworder.wordpress.com
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