My personal calendar has not just one New Year, but several. Like everyone else, I greet Jan. 1 as a day to look at my life with fresh eyes and resolve to do better, but that sense of optimism usually wanes as winter does. So I turn to the start of Lent as an alternate New Year of sorts, a time to reconnect with my hopes for personal improvement. As a father of two, I also know that a new year starts at the close of each summer, when the kids return to class for another nine months.
I can’t say that my son and daughter were thrilled about the end of summer vacation, but once resigned to the inevitability of going back to campus, my fifth-grade son did take small consolation in the fact that he’d be getting new school supplies.
Even in an age of computers, the basic satisfaction of a new notebook, a clean eraser and an unopened box of crayons endures. Blank paper and new pencils promise what we all want: a clean slate, a fresh field of possibility.
The gridirons of August bring high hopes, too. For the moment, at least, athletes and their fans can dream without reservation of a flawless season.
Now that our children are back in school, I’ve also been trying to think of my own life as a clean slate. With our house much quieter during the day, I took some time away from the office last week to stay at home and clear out our study -- pitching clutter, and slowly winnowing the weight of my household to something lighter, freer, more open to the coming coolness and clarity of fall.
The world could use another New Year about now. Summer, which is supposed to be a season of rest and renewal, had an exhausting quality to it this year, as the president and Congress haggled without end, our wars overseas continued, and state and local politicians sharpened their swords.
What we now need, it seems, is a measure of the good cheer and good will that floated so freely eight months ago, when the ball dropped in Times Square, confetti decorated the frosty air, and champagne glasses clinked in unison with toasts to what we might become.
Short of that, we’ll have to find comfort in much smaller gestures of possibility this month.
Although comfort and August rarely keep close company in this part of the country, I caught the slightest breeze stirring the afternoon torpor last weekend — a current of air as vague as a rumor, and just as tantalizing.
What I was feeling, or what I hoped I was feeling, was the subtle hint of autumn, a whispered promise of chilled nights, warm gumbo, weekend football and harvest moons. You won’t find the coming of fall among the front-page headlines this month. But at the moment, or so it seems, the approach of autumn is probably the best news we’ve got.