It’s very important to be one’s age,” poet W. H. Auden reminds us. “You get ideas you have to turn down — ‘I’m sorry, no longer’; ‘I’m sorry, not yet.’”
2019 is our age.
As we head into New Year’s Eve, which more than any other holiday asks us to distinguish between the no-longers and not-yets in our own lives, we should take advantage of the pause and consider what’s gone and what’s ahead.
Commentators more informed than I will provide lists, timetables and catalogs of the historical, political and social events that shaped 2018. They’ll give us a receipt for what we’ve packed into this sack of a year, ringing us out like the cashier at the grocery store as we ring in 2019.
Pundits will be discussing, I’m sure, that to which we collectively seem to be saying no longer. 2018 was, after all, a year when a lot of folks said “Enough” or “Time’s Up” or “Me Too” and the folks they said it about got caught, got time, didn’t get their $120 million exit packages from CBS, or got appointed to the Supreme Court anyhow.
It was a year when the most gentle, patient and open-mined of us were no longer able to discuss anything without wanting to slap somebody. Tongue-biting became a medically recognized condition, one that could be treated only by restricting the daily intake of electronic media.
2018 became the year when strangers could no longer discuss a topic even as bland as the weather without raising their blood pressure because 1) If you believe in climate change, it now implies that you don’t believe in an omnipotent supreme being who, having created the earth, therefore regulates its temperature at will with a cosmic version of a pop-up poultry timer; 2) If you don’t believe in climate change, it implies you’re an anti-science dolt who listens to nothing but Charlie Daniels' fiddle as the world burns.
But I’m trying to think more locally this New Year’s Eve.
I’m picturing Auden’s no-longers and not-yets as the two fixed points holding up the hammock of right-now. Or maybe they’re like the two top points of a sling-shot, and right-now is at the center.
How about this? 2019 is a locale — and so is every other year. Years are addresses where we once lived but to which can no longer return as residents. There’s no real harm in revisiting as long as you remember you’re only passing through. If you’re going back to remind yourself of what it was like, it can be fun. If you return to measure the differences, for better or worse, from whom you were when you lived there and who and where you are now, it can be interesting.
But it’s best to keep your windows rolled up and not pause for too long, because you don’t want to get stuck. If you sit in idle in front of your ex’s, or your high school theater, or your grandma’s house, or your college’s football field, or wherever you had your worst or best moments, you can end up stuck. And you don’t want to be one of those poor souls who needs to get towed away. You don’t want to stay in one old cul-du-sac for so long that they’ll send in heavy equipment or a flatbed.
But we all could do a memoir with addresses for each year. For example, when I was 16, I lived at 1973 Boulevard of Broken Dreams. We’ve recently been living on 2018 Privileged Drive in Political Chaos, but we spent the past weekend with friends from the old neighborhood, 1987 Barely Makes Rent and 1978 Not A Clue.
Even if we picture the year ahead as terrain, however, we still can’t set a GPS for 2019. Maps and guidebooks can give us general directions, but here’s all we really know: No-longer is in the rear-view mirror, and not-yet is somewhere down the road.
Right now, we are facing this moment, this day, this night. Let’s welcome the new year, cross the fresh threshold, turn up the music and make ourselves at home.