It’s not a question. We did live one more year, this planet traveled all the way around the Sun one more time, we knocked another twelve months off our calendars. It’s now four days into the new year, 2012, and I’m still dealing with that strange feeling of writing an extra “2” on my dates. I’m excited for this year. Personally, I’ve got a lot of new adventures coming. Nationally, we’ve got presidential elections on the horizon. Globally, if you believe the Mayans, we’d better party like it’s 1999 (just kidding.) Like everyone, I spent a good portion of my New Year’s celebrations looking both backward and forward, recounting my past 365 days and wondering what the next will be like. While I was surfing the Web, I came across a video posted by Google’s Zeitgeist program. “Zeitgeist” is the German word for “the spirit of the times,” and Google uses the program to track the millions of searches plugged into its system every day. (Thanks to http://www.google.com/intl/en/press/zeitgeist/index.html for the biographical info.)
This video (Oh, here’s a link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SAIEamakLoY&noredirect=1) was a summary of the biggest events in 2011 portrayed as Google searches. Included in the sum-up were photos of the tragic earthquakes in Japan, the Arab Spring, the tenth anniversary of 9/11, and the birth of the world’s newest country, South Sudan. Brief video clips covered Bin Laden’s death, the final liftoff of the Space Shuttle program, Occupy Wall Street, and the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” There were also many individual tributes to 2011’s headlining people, including Gabrielle Giffords, Steve Jobs, Betty Ford, Amy Winehouse, and Andy Rooney. The video transitioned smoothly from topic to topic, and I think it does an excellent job of acknowledging the best and worst moments of this year. I was prepared to walk away from my computer pleased until I reached the last frame. It showed the familiar Google search bar as the words “we made it” were slowly typed in. Fade to black. Well, white, but you get the picture.
Now, “we made it” is in and of itself not a bad phrase. In fact, it’s a pretty good one. It expresses feelings of relief and accomplishment: we made it! We lived through all the good and the bad, we did OK, we’re doing OK, we survived…
Wait a minute…survived? That’s certainly not as positive a thought as “we made it,” yet it seems to be the prevailing attitude towards 2011. News articles, TV commentaries, even Facebook posts are looking back on 2011 and shuddering. Why?
Don’t get me wrong; 2011 was not an easy year. There have been many tragedies…many lives lost, many homes destroyed, and many worries for the future created. It wouldn’t take anyone who watches even a little news very long to come up with a fistful of negative things from last year. What I wonder is why people are choosing to focus on all those negative things and creating this philosophy of survival. Has everything really gotten so bad that the best thing we can say at the end of a year is, “We made it?”
In ancient Babylon, the New Year was celebrated by stopping all work for eleven days, replacing it with feasting and rest and ceremonies that signified the beginning of a new life. Ancient Romans celebrated their New Year by decorating their houses with fresh garlands to signify healthy living and by giving each other gifts to bring good luck. The Chinese New Year is one of the most famous, and traditionally the focus is on cleansing themselves and their homes in preparation for the upcoming year. Also, there’s a good deal of food.
In all of these cases, the attitude toward New Year’s is excited and joyous. No one was regretting the disasters of the past or worrying about the problems in the future. Now, please don’t spin this into the predictable connotations of chronological snobbery, or read this as if I don’t care to remember the past or worry about the future. My point is that New Year’s has always been a celebration, and that if you went back 1000 years to China and said, “We made it!” people would look at you like you were nuts. “Yes, obviously,” they’d say. “Now, sit down and eat your food and open your presents and for heaven’s sake, enjoy yourself!”
Making it through something implies that the something was tough and difficult to survive. 2011 had its rough spots, yes, but it had its share of victories too. And now, here we are in 2012. We have a whole other year we get to live, not we have to live. Negativity never inspired anyone, and “we made it” just doesn’t strike the right note when we’re trying to move forward with another year. I’ve got the same issue with the phrase, “Here goes nothing!” Nothing doesn’t exist and it never went anywhere. Something, on the other hand, has always gone places, although we may not yet know where those places are.
So, in conclusion, Happy 2012 everyone. Here goes something. Let’s make it big.