peering hopefully into the new year

Once again we’ve passed that strange, nonexistent benchmark — New Year’s Eve. This cooked up, miscalculated date is one of our most…

Once again we’ve passed that strange, nonexistent benchmark — New Year’s Eve. This cooked up, miscalculated date is one of our most erratic inventions.

It’s a crazy date for the crazy creatures that human beings are. The winter solstice would be a perfect day, the furthest the Earth is from the sun, to mark the end of the old and the birth of the new.

After December 20, every day grows longer. Alas, we’re not that smart.

Cultures around the world have an annual new year. Only the dates range from early September to late April.

Several of India’s varied nations have New Year’s Days clustered around Diwali, the gorgeous festival of light. Others prefer days near the vernal equinox — March 20th. The Chinese New Year depends on the moon. In 2008, Islam is not fooling around. It will have two New Years’.

Britain and its colonies didn’t finally settle on the present New Year’s until 1752, just two decades before the American revolution. So we’re celebrating a relatively recent invention, but hey, any excuse for a party…

I began thinking about how we celebrate New Year’s when I had the fortune to spend the night in a heritage house on the Campbell River with the entire family, including all the grandchildren.

After the countdown on the radio, everybody sang out Happy New Year’s while Auld Lang Syne played and we clinked our glasses and took a sip of the worst champagne I’ve ever tasted.

That was my first lesson of the year. Never send the beer drinker out to buy the champagne.

We informed the grandchildren they had to open the front door to let the new year in and the back door to let the old year hobble out. Voices along the river were shouting Happy New Year’s and pots were banged by our neighbours.

Then I heard the gunfire.

“Hey, they’re shooting out there!” I said. “Those ain’t firecrackers.”

Campbell River is a tougher town than it looks. Within a few minutes the ambulances were roaring by and we could only assume somebody accidentally got shot, fell off a deck, or had a heart attack.

Welcome to the new year. A good enough time as any to make resolutions and wishes for the year to come. These are a few of mine.

I wish that all the religious fanatics examine their faith and learn that charity and grace and forgiveness are the core of every religion, and that mania and obsession and righteousness are the sins of every religion.

On that note I wish that President George Bush learns he is of the same religion as Jimmy Carter, and maybe he should emulate him in retirement, doing good deeds like building houses for the poor with his own hands, though I suspect he will slide smoothly into armament or oil businesses.

And I wish that Prime Minister Stephen Harper wouldn’t continue aping the failed policies (especially on climate change!) of the American administration he’s so flamboyantly been brown-nosing. The civil servants in Ottawa don’t call him Prime Minister Shrub (a little bush) without reason.

I wish that Stephane Dion learns to speak English. Then again, Canadians have been unafraid of electing people who can’t speak English, though we aren’t known for electing intelligent, well-meaning people who mangle their soundbites.

I wish that Jack Layton finally meets a hand he can’t shake, or is that something good to be said of a man who is too nice to everybody?

I wish we get proportional representation in our elections, so that our votes will actually matter.

I wish the cops would quit Tasering and shooting Canadians and I wish Canadians would quit killing cops. Their job is difficult enough without being murdered by drunks and druggies.

Ever since our police learned to mimic American policing, and treat every suspect as a potential killer, and then shoot to kill, law enforcement has gone downhill in Canada. Sometimes I wonder if “suicide by cop” became popular when we realized our cops are better killers than buses and trains and sleeping pills.

Canadian police were once, along with British police, the most respected in the world. Now, bad management, the blue wall, and bad policies have broken the great trust that once existed between Canadians and our police — a trust dating back to the days of Sam Steele and the expulsion of the whiskey runners.

I wish the price of oil goes up another 50 bucks a gallon, so travel becomes what it should be, a life adventure and not a quick getaway — so that local jobs and local food stay home, where they belong, and the high cost of transportation means that we won’t be shipping our jobs to China and Mexico, and shipping back their poisons.

I wish that the high cost of gas causes people to learn to get out of their cars and walk again. It’s good for the planet and good for that big gut too many men and women are carrying around. Climate change and good health begins in our cars, and at home, and with all of us, not just oil companies.

All change begins at home. You can make laws and you can make regulations, but knowledge and common decency are better. Each of us has to become the change we seek.

A friend of mine used to remark: “Think of someone you know of average intelligence. Now recognize that your friend is smarter than half the people in the world. Scary, eh?”

Yup, history has proven we’re not as smart as we believe we are, so my one real wish is that we teach our children science and music and poetry and good manners, the true building blocks of knowledge and pattern recognition and grace — not the phony dogma of religions and political hacks and corporate agendas — and maybe they will become the change we need before we stumble into a future of bitter new years.

Brian Brett, poet, journalist, novelist, lives on Salt Spring Island and returns to the Yukon whenever he can. His new book of poetry and prose is Uproar’s Your Only Music.

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