New years set us thinking. Some people actually make a list of resolutions and have every intention of following them. I have never known any such person, but they exist, at least in our mythology. Saying you're going to lose 20 pounds does not count as a New Year's resolution, at least not in my book, since I've been doing that at least twice a year for the last 30. Keeping to any resolution is not something we do very well.
What we do do very well is look over the incidents of the outgoing year, with major television networks editing news clippings reminding us of the way we were in the past year, to say nothing of who died and what news events altered our times. We add to that our own personal achievements and awareness of losses, put them all in a box in our minds, and probably think of them very seldom as time goes by. Not that that's a bad thing. We must move forward.
This year was a sour one by most accounts. Hopes built up by a sterling new president were dashed as we had to face, with him, the reality of the job he was presented with. We found ourselves viewing everything that happened in 2009 through the lens of a looming economic downturn. I'm old enough to have seen these come and go, but many of today's wealthy are not, and to them the drop in finances was unfathomable and perhaps unacceptable. An unknown monster in the background was a kindly-looking old man named Bernie Madoff, who became a symbol of excess and corruption. It is not a visage we would like to encounter again. Suddenly Obama's picks for his financial team looked suspect, and we are not likely to know their true mettle until we can view their work in retrospect; all we can do is hope it's not too late. By the same token, all of the people surrounding the president seem somehow tainted and the mindless hope of his inauguration day is darkened if not crushed.
The capture of a terrorist in an airplane on our home ground is an ominous note upon which to end such a year. The more we learn about this, the more alarmed we become. It will be difficult for a State of the Union address to stimulate such a disquieted populace. We all know if anyone can do it, Barack Obama is the man--but I cannot think, with the 24-hour-news pundits in line to parse that speech, that he will achieve his goal with it. We have become jaded enough that the fact he can give a soaring speech is no longer viewed with awe by many.
It was a year of failed pranks--the balloon parents and the gate crashers come to mind. It was a year of failed deception--the governor of South Carolina and former politician John Edwards come to mind. It was a year of dashed illusions--Tiger Woods comes to mind.
Michael Jackson died suddenly. Walter Cronkite and Edward Kennedy were taken by illness. Jennifer Jones, Ricardo Montalban, Karl Malden, Pat Hingle and Brittany Murphy were also among those who left us this year. We were once again struck by the fleeting quality of life itself, and challenged to make our own mark while we could, which is what reflecting on the passing of a year is really about. I don't know what I'll do next year, but I am certain it will be a better year than the one we've just suffered through together.
I've been invited to a little New Year's Eve party, and that reminds me that the last one I went to was in ushering in the dreaded year 2000--remember when we thought the computers of the world might crash and throw all into blithering oblivion? This year's get together will be simpler, as we happily bid farewell to a year in which it seemed the news never got better. We'll toast the birth of 2010 with a glass of champagne and I have no doubt we'll all feel that it will be happier than the year we're leaving behind.