As 2019 draws to its close, and we count down to 2020, it is perhaps inevitable that I have been musing on the nature of change. Time passes – some things stay the same, other things evolve. Change is sometimes gradual, sometimes sudden, often unwelcome, sometimes liberating. At this point in the calendar, it feels as if we are poised on the threshold – at once looking back at how things have been, and forward to how things might be. Depending on where we are on life’s journey, looking back can evoke joy, sadness, regret – or simply relief that it’s over. Looking forward can be scary, or hopeful. We close the door on the old year, and open the door to the new.
This is not a new concept. The month of January is named after the Roman God Janus, the god of beginning s and endings. He is associated with transitions of all kinds: doorways, gateways, arches, passageways. He was also associated with war and peace, the doors of his temple in Rome being open during war, and closed during peacetime. It is said they were rarely closed. Janus is usually depicted in art as having two faces – one facing forwards, one back. At this time of year, we probably all know how that feels.
All this talk of thresholds and gates reminded me of the words of a poem known as The Gate of the Year or God Knows, by Minnie Louise Haskins (1875-1957) – here is the first stanza:
And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.
The poem is perhaps most famous for being quoted by King George VI in his Christmas broadcast in 1939, with the deprivations of the Great Depression fresh in the collective memory, and the challenges of world war ahead. “A new year is at hand,” the King said. “We cannot tell [what] it will bring. If it brings peace how thankful we shall all be.” I wonder if he, too, being classically educated, was thinking of Janus, on the threshold between war and peace.
Despite my best efforts to avoid the news, in the interests of keeping my sanity, it’s impossible not to be depressed about the state of the world, with wars, natural disasters, and divided societies. However, I am determined to step over the threshold of 2020 in a spirit of hope. There is the opportunity of change. The new year lies before us, like the blank pages of a new notebook, ready for what we create in it. Let’s fill 2020 with adventure, flourishing, love, and above all, peace.
Happy New Year!
I was reading this piece aloud to make sure it was OK, and had the sudden thought that it might be fun to experiment with recording it as an audio file and adding it to this blog post as a link (below). I’ve not used the technology before, and I’m just using the Voice Recording function on my laptop, not a proper mic, so the quality is a bit scratchy. I wonder if you, dear reader, would mind testing it and letting me know if it works on your phone, tablet or laptop – and whether you’d like me to do this again from time to time? Just a few words in Leave a Comment would be great. Many thanks!