As I tear off a page on my calendar and get used to writing 2006, I can't help feeling the wistful strains of "Auld Lang Syne" calling me to a better accounting of my time.
Perhaps that feeling is due to a professor at the University of Edinburgh who unlocked the old Scottish phrase for me some 20 years ago as we made our way through the poetry of Robert Burns.
A young college student, I was eager for everything fresh and new and didn't give much thought to the past. But Dr. Jack stood before us, his short hair more silver than black, letting memories of both joy and sorrow color the way he read that poignant poem.
The lecture hall remained silent. And I began to see why this familiar lyric reminds us to look both forward and back - and not to forget what's important.
But that's the worry I heard in Louisiana while doing some cleanup from Katrina three months after the hurricane. The small group of residents I had been working alongside was deeply touched by the national outpouring of kindness following the storm. Letters, prayers, and donations had come to them from Colorado to Michigan, California to Massachusetts.
They were overwhelmed by the attention they had received.
But the storm of late summer has given way to the calm of fall and the quiet of early winter, and the work to be done is only getting started. Blue tarps still cover the roofs of most homes in this community. FEMA-provided trailers sit in the front yard of houses that are still uninhabitable. Billboards along the highway remain snapped in two. Debris sits in uncollected heaps at the edge of yards or strewn for miles along the roadside.
It will be March or later before much of the rebuilding is expected to begin in earnest.
"I'm afraid," one woman confided as we tossed another tree limb onto the brush pile, "that by that time, when we will need more volunteers and helping hands, everyone will have forgotten Katrina and will be on to the next news story. It will just become one of the events that belong to 2005."
So how to think about that arbitrary division between December and January?
We need a higher view of all that's being recorded. Our New Year simply marks the end of one complete circuit around the sun by the Earth. Yet, 365 days means little on Saturn, where a full orbit takes 29.4 Earth years, or on Mercury, where a new year begins every 87 days.
Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Monitor, wrote: "Suns and planets teach grand lessons" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," p. 240). I like to think that a year on any planet represents a journey of completeness. Our journeys may not coincide with the Earth's yearly orbit either. Like Katrina, an event may intersect with the Earth's calendar and set in motion journeys that last a lot longer than 365 days.
Bible history memorializes the nearly 50 years the Jews spent in exile in Babylon. Their return to Jerusalem and renewal of their faith were celebrated with great joy. Throughout it all, their prophets kept God at the center of their lengthy sojourn, reminding the people to let life revolve around that constant spiritual relationship and to rediscover the intrinsic completeness sustained by Spirit, despite the circumstances.
So whatever date I'm penning at the top of my Christmas thank-you notes, I'm thinking less about the Earth's orbit and more about those journeys taking us through whatever situation may seem to endure longer than year-end. Every loss, every sorrow, every illness compels us back around again spiritually to that wholeness we thought we'd lost in the past. My prayer that spans the old and new year is for God - divine Love - to remain the center of our orbits with no one forgotten and each journey's preordained end anticipated with joy, no matter how many Earth-days it might take.