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Sunday 15 December 2019
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Commentary

Change of guards

I have always wondered about the concept of a new year. For a time in my life, each year seemed like simply a punctuation mark in an otherwise long stretch of time. The only thing that suggested the passage of time was the idea of birthdays and the national calendar of events. Even the weather seemed unsure of itself, in limbo at some points as to whether it should move on in a disciplined fashion into the rainy season or stay in the moment and fuel the raging bush fires.

The movement into a new year had always seemed routine. It was a routine however, in which most of us participated. The energy of this was therefore different than the usual daily ones where "each man to his own." Like the change of guards at the royal palace, the countdown to the new year remains a ceremonial affair with no particular purpose except that it is tradition and tradition, more than being rational, is often emotional.

Such traditions more often than not, unearth some emotion that serve to root us in ourselves. But this is not just individual rootedness. It is a tradition that calls on the collective. Most of us in some way are involved in the performance of time’s passing for New Year’s is a performance. Like any good performance, it brings to the fore, emotions. We are all actors and participants on this stage. And so, the energy of New Year’s Eve is the energy of anticipation. As a friend, with whom I was sharing my thoughts on my concept of New Year’s as performance, put it, "It’s true! It is a performance. We all know what’s coming but we still take a breath and wait as the countdown begins."

We are suspended in the moment as we anticipate the second hand of the clock ticking towards the final minute that will usher us into the new. Even as each one of us feels the experience of the new year in our own way we are all still connected by the experience of ushering it in. I use the change of guards here as an example because for me in a sense, this is both spectacle and tradition, very similar to the new year celebrations. I see the entry into the new year as a living thing, one scene in that stretch of time that is our life. Even if time is intangible, something we cannot see or touch, we still experience its passage, and the midnight chime is an entry into possibilities.

I was prompted to write this because it struck me when I saw updates on social media that can all be summed up as "this is momentary and then you are back to square one in a few days. Nothing has changed except the year."

We do commend those who root us in the reality for this is a version of the truth for many people. On the converse side, however, as I wrote last week, and again the thought comes up, we are always straddling the line between fantasy and reality. It is what keeps us alive, and vibrantly so. Hope, if we should look closely, is fantasy. Without it, life simply becomes an absurd joke.

As human beings, we feel, we experience. Hence, we look at films and enjoy a good book. They are useless activities if we walk the Vulcan road of logic. But they are intensely important activities when we acknowledge that we are all a bundle of emotions as well, shifting from one emotion to another in the course of an hour, a day a month.

The shift into a new year is a period of rejuvenation. It is a ritual, like the change of guards, where the weary is replaced by a fresh body and mind. We witness the change in the way we witness any ritual in which we may or may not be active participants – imaginatively and therefore emotionally. And so, these traditions are powerful because they rely on our imaginations and remind us that it is present. For, despite the fact that the empire no longer exists as it was, the ritual remains relevant because we recognise that a people’s imagination creates their sense of self, their sense of rootedness.

So, I take this opportunity to wish everyone a year of fantastical living! May we continue to build the belief in our individual and collective possibilities.

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