The secondhand on my grandfather’s watch, shimmering blue, makes it way past the VI, then the X, then the II and once again the VI. There is no poetry in its movement. Rather than gliding, it stutters, shaking a little in its march—and if one strains, one can hear that the watch’s ticks, are frantic, frenzied, almost desperate. The little needle struggles onwards, anxiously, past its two brothers, which are still to the eye. But look away and they are displaced, as if by phantom force. A minute ago it was 0:05, just now it has become 6:05. Twenty-four hours—wait, eighteen—remain before the window that at the moment reads 31 will, in a blink, read 1.
But it will do so unobserved. Instead its owner will stand transfixed, watching the television screen as the ball drops, ever so slowly, in Times Square. Exclamation and exultation will greet the moment of the ball’s final descent. Champagne, sparkling in glasses that reflect the warm light from up above and all around, will be quickly downed after a toast—a toast to a happy New Year. And so, in an instant that changes everything and nothing, will we begin anew.
It is an instant hallowed by secular tradition, bringing with it the glory of new beginnings and restarts. It is the time for resolutions, which lay the foundation for that great resplendent promise: the promise of a new self. Like snakes, we hope to shed the skins we sported in the past year and step forth wearing a newly woven set of garments, our old flaws mended and new virtues sown in. We hope to be recreated, in our own image, but without the crippling imperfections. We hope and our hope is a prayer to some internal divine. Because if we were created in the image of God, then surely we too can make fiction into fact. We hope, because more than anything else, the New Year is a celebration of the symphonic power of raw hope.
Let us rejoice in our prayers for one long heartbeat, rise up in the aching bliss of imagining the unreal. In a cascading crescendo, we see new loves and new successes. We see a transfiguration of the mediocre into the marvelous, of insecurities into strengths, of resentment into peaceful acceptance. We see in exquisite, glistening detail, the realization of hitherto failed conquests and the miraculous disappearance of previously insurmountable obstacles.
We allow ourselves to be thrown by ourselves, abandoned by ourselves, into reveries that would have been walled off and guarded by Cerberus himself at any other hour of the year. At midnight, as the hands on my grandfather’s watch align and the computer’s clock shines 0:00:00, we let reality become dream and dream become reality. Our hearts dance with frozen anticipation and a cry of joy rises to our throats, content just to have been summoned. The instant is eternal, containing infinities, and ephemeral, over as it begins. It is grace and salvation, blinding moonlight, gone before our conscious can note its arrival.
Time passes. Shadowy disappointment worms its way through the pale ruins and rotting fissures where hope has burned its path. The futures we lived and loved have returned home to the underworld from where they came, but now the shiver of an agonizing nostalgia spiders its way down our spines. The resonance of a memory punishes us with its sudden unobtainability. Cerberus has resumed his post, and Hades grins, or maybe sneers, or maybe cries. We were allowed to see our desires, but only as Orpheus was permitted to take Eurydice back to the surface—with the unwritten proviso that we cannot have them, just as he cannot have her.
In a second eternity, what was frozen becomes flame, and the cry of joy, an abject whimper of pain. Here is the moment of sin and despair. It is revealed that the ache of what is not is incomparably worse than the ache of what is. And that only absence, aeterno modo, can teach love and hate and need.
Prometheus is chained to his mountain, Atlas carries the sky, and Sisyphus rolls his boulder up his hill. Who suffers more: the Titans or the man?
But then, forever ends, and one last beacon of hope alights on a wintry peak far, nearly too far, in the distance. It is the lofty height upon which we, in our brazen humanity, had obliviously stood. We accept the challenge. Like Zeno, we resolve to begin the hike and with this decision, are returned to our company, to laugh and sing and embrace each other until finally we are called by the Sirens to sleep and to dreams, wish as we might for none.
I wake on January first to the ticking of my grandfather’s watch. With delight and horror I remember those two feelings of the night before, but not as vividly, illuminated as they are by only the faint colorlessness of the sun’s desert rays. The chaotic, beautiful music of the night has yielded to no music at all. In that deep silence, the godly and daemonic shrink away from my grasp. I find myself, somehow, in the month of Janus. Sprawling, dizzyingly, in every direction, are the future and the past. They are symmetrical—as they must be—and unfold concurrently, created by I, who am in the now. At every fork, I see what was and what will be, what I wish were and what I wish would be.
Some of the roads, the ones of the past, fall away. From the rest grows a labyrinth. Behind me lies a mirror, ahead is my promised peak. An irremediable step takes me into the pitch-black darkness.