Like some kind of wizard, I spent the month of December utilizing potion (Jergens Natural Glow self tanner) and incantation (“I would like a table outside, please.”) to excellent effect in holding cold weather at bay. But the cold did eventually come, just in time for New Year’s and all its frenetic, slightly underwhelming, overly affected examination of human behavior.
I begrudgingly pull on my overcoat and gloves, wrap a scarf around my neck, and, saying a silent prayer of gratitude that at least there isn’t any frost on the windshield, I head toward town on the first work day of the new year to begin again. I’ve no interest in listening to the news or raucous morning music hosts, so in the quiet of the car I am left to watch the scenery. My thoughts wander. I don’t believe in coincidence, so I find myself wondering if the arrival of cold weather right at the moment that 2015 magically became 2016 is a sign of something, a portent or harbinger of some kind.
Only a few days in, the year is already marked by sadness of one sort or another. A friend from long ago has died after four separate cancer diagnoses over a period of twenty years. Catastrophic flooding has erased lives and livelihoods from a swathe through the middle of America. A hero has come home to his town, which is also my town, for the last time under a tunnel of American flags and I have burst into tears every time someone has posted a new photograph of his smiling face on social media.
Is this what is ahead? Is this what there is to anticipate for the next twelve months? Heartache and disappointment and loss? One after another?
Something makes me remember that 2016 is a leap year, an Olympic year, and an election year. Each of them contains a hard “l” sound, what linguists call the alveolar lateral approximant, a complicated phrase that simply describes from where in the mouth the sound comes and how much air is used to make it. It is the sound that gives us the words love and life and lily. Light and lush and laughter. Lovely words. Words that skip and twirl and dance their way out into the world. But it is also the sound that gives us lost and lack and liar. Lame and lust and lazy. Words that shuffle and stumble and trip over cracks in the sidewalk.
A single sound can be both lovely and vile. A single sound can be graceful and clumsy. A single sound can be the source of life and death. Surely, then, a year, even one that begins with heartache and disappointment and loss has room for more than just that. Surely it can hold a place for dancing, an occasion for laughter, a reason to keep loving. Surely an entire year, made of so many sounds – the sounds of babies sighing in deep sleep, of geese rising in a wild rush of wings, of waves flailing against the shore at high tide – must hold a place for celebration, too.
If I can make myself believe that, if I can make myself listen for the sounds, for the words that make it so, I can pull on my overcoat and gloves, wrap a scarf around my neck, and step bravely and happily out into the cold.