I sit in front of the fire, sipping chamomile tea, seeking calm now that everyone has gone, and everything is done. That calm that I look forward to amidst the madness that signals the end of a year. The frenzied spending, eating, drinking, like life is about to end and there will be no more opportunities to spend, eat and drink, so we have to do it all, and more, right now. As if death lies just around the corner. A thought that makes people frantic and crazy. Desperate. Mad to the point of hostility and ugliness to others, strangers. I don’t care about you. You are in my way. Get out of my way. Oh, yes. I feel that at this time of year more than any other. The glares, the impatience, the pushing and shoving, the belligerent honks on the road. God forbid you go a little too slow for the driver who is in a mad rush to make it to the store last minute. So many middle fingers in the air. Goodwill towards all.
So I should be enjoying the calm. After all, we can’t live all year like we do at the end. We need order, sanity, patience, civility, or the world would fall apart. But now that all that is about to be restored, I feel empty, despondent, like I’m coming down from a sugar rush and don’t know what to do with myself. Panic and anxiety hover in my heart, and I feel like I need a drink, or dessert, something to raise me up again.
I take a deep breath, and a word appears in my mind, a concept we practice awareness of in meditation and yoga. Impermanence. Never a better time, I tell myself, to ponder the impermanence of things than in December, when the previous year has come to an end. Everything is impermanent. Everything will pass. This feeling of emptiness will also pass, is passing already as I think about it. The bad passes. And also the good. We cannot hold onto anything forever. Death is truly right around the corner and life is transient. A dream. Which leads me to my next thought.
Could the end of the year, in fact, be considered a death? The death of the year? We don’t like to think of the word “death” because it scares us, brings us pain. But what is an ending if not, in so many ways, a death? Hence the words “die down.” The celebrations have “died down.” The madness has “died down.” There are those who have actually left us. Family, friends whose time it was to move on beyond this life. And that brings us pain. But the end of the year, in fact, is also the death of all that the last year brought, the good and the bad both. Failures, successes. The death of a failure brings us hope, the drive to strive. The death of a success brings us grief, but also, perhaps, hopefully, the drive to strive. A loss can be a blessing in disguise. So death is not just about pain, but so much more. It’s complicated. Like life. And death is a part of life.
Maybe even though we don’t talk about impermanence, try not to think about death, we are constantly aware of it. How could we not be with all the death around us? And maybe that’s what drives the madness, the frenzied spending and eating and drinking and pushing and shoving and honking. A reaction to the death of a year. We really know very little of what the next year will bring. And whatever it was that happened last year is definitely not coming back. It might return in a different form, in different circumstances, but it will never be the same as it was last year. Because everything is constantly changing. The future is suddenly right around the corner, defined by the calendar, the seasons. All of a sudden we are steeped in new year’s resolutions, the prospect of re-inventing oneself and starting over. A rebirth. Next year one is a year older, hopefully wiser, but definitely changed in some way, for better or worse, hopefully for better! So “Carpe Diem” – seize the day, live in the present. And the last month of the year whirls by faster than the whole year, like a climax, after which we hope that things will settle down.
So what are we celebrating? Christmas, yes; but is that all? People of all cultures and religions celebrate in December, not just Christians. And Christmas is just one day, not a whole month. So are we celebrating the death of a year? Can one celebrate death? Maybe we’re celebrating that we all made it through another year of change and impermanence, and live to see the birth of another year. During which we will, of course, be different. Eat less, exercise more, work towards goals, etc., etc., right? Right. Or maybe we take the opportunity to release all the efforts we have made all year. Because those efforts are impermanent also. They must “die down” at the end of the year, and give us a much needed holiday without which we might be crazy all year long! And there it is.
Death has to happen for the rest of life to mean something. If things lasted forever and never changed, they would not mean much. They certainly would not be appreciated as much.
I stare at the fire, down to embers, my tea gone. Impermanence. A sudden chill sweeps through the room. The warmth is gone. The year is gone. I rise and go to the dying fire, put another log on, bring it back. The warmth spreads over my cheeks and I close my eyes in gratitude. In a few days a new year will begin. But soon that will also pass. A hand touches my shoulder and I smile. I know that touch. It is my husband, my soul mate. I lean back as his arms go around me, melting into him. He is home. For now. I breathe deep, inhaling the precious smell of him, relishing the feel of his strong arms, completely in the moment. Seize the moment for it will not last. I feel it. So maybe at the end of the year we celebrate in appreciation of the beauty of a life shaped by death. The beauty of impermanence, or of “anicca” as the Buddhists say. Peace.