Letting go – and looking ahead

Saying ‘good riddance’ to the old year is only a start.

Darren Ornitz/Reuters
A woman reacts after throwing papers into a trash can to be shredded during 'Good Riddance Day' 2016 in Times Square, New York.

As New Year’s Day approaches, thoughts can teeter on a pinnacle. Tracing the terrain left behind shows both the rugged patches and the pleasant strolls of the closing year. But thought also swivels ahead, squinting through the mists to determine the path ahead.

In New York City’s Times Square “Good Riddance Day” has become an annual event. It's based on a tradition in Latin America, where people stuff objects that symbolize for them the worst aspects of the previous year into dolls that are then set on fire, freeing them of troubling memories.

In the Manhattan event, held this year on Dec. 28, a bonfire was replaced by a giant shredding machine. People wrote down what they wanted to forget – an event, an action, a person – and threw the note into the shredder, all with the aim of ending its hold over them.

Long lines suggested a lot of people had a lot they’d just as soon forget. Those who weren’t present could tweet their bad memories, which were printed out and fed to the shredder.

“It really is this need we have, even when the world is crazy, to say, ‘You know what? I’m gonna let go of the things that have been dragging me down and ... look forward with a sense of hope and the possibility of change. Either for myself personally or the world,’ said Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Alliance, which sponsors the event.

A little letting go may open thought to fresh possibilities. People need “a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes” to detect the potential of a new year, British author G.K. Chesterton wrote a century ago.

In a guest editorial “Now Is the Greatest Time to Be Alive,” which led the November edition of Wired magazine, President Obama wrote how much he admired “The Martian.” The movie, whose plot involves an American astronaut stranded alone on the Red Planet, showed “how humans – through our ingenuity, our commitment to fact and reason, and ultimately our faith in each other – can [solve] just about any problem.”

He also mentioned the vast improvements he’s seen during his lifetime, including in the lives of racial minorities and people with disabilities. A whole slew of big problems – crime rates, teen pregnancies, poverty – have all markedly improved.

“[T]he truth is, if you had to choose any time in the course of human history to be alive, you’d choose this one,” the president added. “Right here in America, right now.”

Rather than wait passively to see if the new year might surprise people with some good news, they can choose to live lives that anticipate good, says one US religious figure.

“[I]n order to be hopeful, ... we must constantly work at it. We must make hope a lifelong spiritual discipline,” wrote Robert Hardies, senior minister of All Souls Church, Unitarian in Washington, D.C., recently in the Washington Post. “In this way, hope is like love. It’s ... one of the most important ongoing spiritual projects of our lives.”

A new year: That’s 365 new opportunities to explore.

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