Brief Reflection on the New Year

The new year, as Neil deGrasse Tyson pointed out in ’15, is cosmically insignificant. Which means there’s nothing inherently special about December 31st, or January 1st.

I’d reached that conclusion myself perhaps a dozen years ago, give or take two; so many festivities and landmarks in the calendar make little to no sense when thought about from a greater standpoint.

The magic of many of these landmarks vanished for me.

From a few years ago, my wife’s asked and made me think about goals for the year. Which has been disconcerting for me – I didn’t do that, and the year turning is not really “a thing”. I wound up having rolling kind of goals, more than year-long goals. “By March I will achieve X”, said me, circa November – and other similarly non-calendar-fitting goals. This was a good idea.

“There are neither beginnings or endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But it was a beginning”.

– Robert Jordan, The Wheel of Time

I got to choose my beginnings and my endings, which is liberating, realistic, and consistent with reality – people choose things to do all the time.

But if I could write a letter to dozen-years-ago-give-or-take-two-me, I’d say this:

Much like gravity isn’t very important for microscopic beings, cosmic significance is not all that important for people. We’re not working at that scale. We’re working at a socio-cultural scale, a strong context of a few decades with an ever-weaker context bounded in a few millennia.

In that scale there are many important landmarks, and in that scale you can still make your own landmarks, and those still make sense. They work not even because of historical significance – they work because they’re shared context. The landmarks are a ritual by a group or individual, and have meaning bestowed upon them by the minds realizing them.

The origin is not the most important thing, which is what I used to think. The future of the landmark – how long will it be celebrated? – is not the most important thing.

What do we give up, and what do we gain? What are we setting ourselves up for? That’s the strength of the landmark. That’s its use. Now go, younger-me, and think about this for a time in that sleepless New Year’s morrow, while everyone around you is in oblivion and realizations of how different you are from people around you are gnawing.

The landmarks, they can make you belong if you want. They can set you apart if you want.

Happy new year.

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