On New Year’s Day my thoughts always turn to the passage of time, as I presume many people’s do. Most see the new year as a clean slate, a chance to start over. I happen to believe that every morning is a gift since none of us is guaranteed tomorrow, and every day is a chance to do things differently, to be a different and better person.
King Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 1:9, “That which has been is what will be, That which is done is what will be done, And there is nothing new under the sun.” Wise man. Secular wisdom tells us that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. No matter when you choose to reflect on your past, at the new year or each new dawn, the important thing is to pinpoint your mistakes or what you’d like to change, learn your lesson, and try to do better. It’s never too late or too early to start fresh. You can just as easily resolve to change on July 1 as January 1.
Reflection on personal history often leads me to consider societal change, as well. Last night, I awoke to the sounds of revelry down the street. It was just after midnight, and someone took their party outside to shout “happy new year” to the neighborhood and blow those horrible party horns that sound like duck calls. Of course, we are living in the South, so they might have actually been duck calls. The noise only lasted about 10 minutes, but once I was awake I found it difficult to go back to sleep. I began thinking about history and past generations, which led me to remember Solomon’s quote. “There is nothing new under the sun.” How much sooner might mankind have arrived at this technological point if the knowledge of the Greeks and Romans hadn’t been lost for centuries during the Dark Ages? The Romans had in-door plumbing and sewer systems. Things that did not return to the everyday life of the common man until a mere century ago. Then, I considered my own generation, Generation X, as we are called. We are the children of the Baby Boomers and the grandchildren of The Greatest Generation. We are what I like to call “the In-Between” generation.
I say “in-between” because we are caught between the old and the new. I got to know my great-grandmothers, who saw the end of one century and the beginning of another, as have I. They saw telephones go from being at the country store to being in everyone’s homes, and my grandmothers, born in the Twenties, got to see phones go into everyone’s hands. They saw air travel go from minutes at Kitty Hawk to world wide travel on airlines to space shuttles. They quite possibly witnessed the most accelerated technological advancements in human history occur in their lifetimes.
Then, I started thinking of all the changes I’ve witnessed in less than 40 years of life. The first family car that I remember my parents owning had an eight track player. My sister, who is 13 years younger than me, had a CD player in her first family car. My youngest child’s first family car had a USB port. When I was a kid, I played my music on records on my parents’stereo system. The first time I saw a CD someone at my dad’s company Christmas party had given me the new Bruce Springsteen album. I was maybe 13. I didn’t know how to play it. It was another three years or more before I got a CD player, and now, here I am downloading songs off the internet onto my phone. And I don’t even have to be at home to do it! It’s like living in the future, man! For a woman whose first home phone was a rotary, and you dialed zero for an operator, on close inspection the changes can be a bit frightening, but I feel privileged to have lived the past as well as the future. My grandmothers taught me how shell peas, snap beans, how to can, and how to quilt. I learned things from them that could sustain my family should the need ever arise. I’ve seen television go from an antenna on top of your house that you had to periodically turn to receive all four channels to streaming movies off the internet, and I’ve experienced everything in- between…the first VCR (ours was a Beta), cable, satellite, DVD’s, blue-ray, which wasn’t as big a hit as everyone thought it was going to be.
Our society, culture, or whatever you want to call it has changed drastically since I was a kid, too. I remember a girl in my class who got pregnant our senior year of high school. She stayed out for about a month, and when she came back, she and the boy were married. They entered an accelerated program where they took extra classes at the community college and graduated early. He got a job at the local tire factory and supported his new family. My sophomore year of college, a girl I knew got pregnant, and she and the boy immediately got married. They took part time jobs, and their families helped them financially so they could both finish school. This was the societal and familial expectation. You got pregnant; you got married. Today, couples get pregnant out of wedlock on purpose, and society doesn’t bat an eye. Marriage has almost become superfluous, and yet, we just this past year, added a new legality to it.
I find all of this confusing. Sometimes, if I think about how fast things are changing: the increase in violence, the changes in societal norms, the resurgence of incurable diseases, I get a little scared. I wonder what kind of world my children will inherit. Are we actually moving in retrograde? Are we, like the Romans, headed for a technological and cultural plateau that will eventually catapult us back into the Dark Ages? Are we destined to constantly lose and regain knowledge? After all, as King Solomon said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” Happy New Year, everyone.