The Irrepressible Hope of a New Year

Jan 31, 2009 | Updated May 25, 2011

The headlines have been unrelentingly gloomy in 2008 except for November 4, the day of national euphoria when Barack Obama became President-elect.

Seven weeks after the election, and almost three weeks before the inauguration, conversations still brighten up when his name is mentioned. It seems everyone is going to the inauguration--either in body or in spirit.

But it is hard to avoid the reality that 2008 has been an unusually difficult year. The news is so overwhelmingly dark; the continued record home foreclosures, record stock market declines since the Great Depression, record loss of consumer confidence, and that's only a partial list. Add to that the huge bailouts, war rumblings between Pakistan and India, the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, renewed outbreak of fighting between Palestinians and Israelis, an increasingly threatening Russia, a belligerent Iran, dreadful suffering in Zimbabwe, and new killings in Congo.

When friends and strangers greet each other this final day of the year, we optimistically say, "Happy New Year." This year, we can't wait for the New Year to start and the old year to retire. We may have wildly unrealistic expectations for the New Year, expecting President Obama to solve all of our problems in short order. We know those are impossible expectations, but there is something about the start of a New Year which, despite our realistic view of the world, cannot suppress hope. That's why one million people crowd into Times Square, that's why people kiss each other when the clock strikes twelve. For that one brief moment that marks the end of one year and the beginning of the next, we allow ourselves to believe that the New Year will be better. Yes, it will. Yes, we can.

The New Year may not provide those who have lost their homes to foreclosure find a new roof over their heads, or those who have lost retirement funds achieve new financial security, but it may provide some optimism that their situation can improve.

And for some, hard times have forced people to focus less on security and material comfort and more on the small things that matter. For some it is time spent with family and friends over a cup of soup, for others it might be helping someone who is worse off than they are, and for others it is a walk down a busy street, enjoying the tempo, the signs, the people.

Living in Vermont, I turned to Robert Frost to find joy in simply being alive. Here is a poem I will share with you.

Dust of Snow

The way a crow shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a Day I had rued.

Happy New Year, everyone!

This was originally posted at Chelsea Green.

Madeleine M. Kunin is the former Governor of Vermont and was the state's first woman governor. She served as Ambassador to Switzerland for President Clinton, and was on the three-person panel that chose Al Gore to be Clinton's VP. She is the author of Pearls, Politics, and Power: How Women Can Win and Lead from Chelsea Green Publishing.