We come to the end of the year and find ourselves taking stock. Family, friends and holiday bring us together, the coming new year allows us to consider the future, goals, resolutions.
Though the calendar date is an artificial reference point we look back at what was, finding it difficult to have predicted the year that just passed; we look forward and set our hopes knowing there’s so much we can’t even imagine.
We make lists, we are a list making animal. We like order, we like to make sense of things through lists and rankings. Top to bottom, highs and low, we mark events and accomplishments in preferential order, sequential, like time.
Time. What is it Tom Waits’ character says in Rumble Fish?
“Time is a funny thing. Time is a very peculiar item. See, when you’re young, you’re a kid, you got time. You got nothing but time. Throw away a couple of years here, couple of years there, doesn’t matter. You know, the older you get, you say: ‘Jesus, how much I got? I got thirty five summers left.’ Think about it. Thirty-five summers.”
Of course we don’t how many summers we have left, or even the demarcation where we an start measuring what we have and what we’ve got left. But at some point we start thinking in terms of here and there, now and then, here and gone. And our lists begin to gather a certain gravity, a weight they might not have had in years past, details and people and things that have come to accumulate noticeably in size.
End-of-year round-ups in the media isolate the bests and worsts and among those lists the passing of celebrities.
It’s a funny thing, that we spend as much time and energy as we do following the lives of celebrities and mark their passing with the same emotional investment as if they were members of our own family. It isn’t too much of a stretch – at least to my thinking – that this adoration of celebrity is a natural extension of our old tribal concerns. When we lived in closer knit groups and societies we needed every member to survive. The cobbler needed the tanner, the farmer needed the cooper, the wrangler needed the smith, and when one member of the tribe or city or village was lost all felt that loss.
Over time the villages grew to cities, towns, states, nations. The farmer needed the schoolteacher for his children, the tanner needed the merchant to bring tools and materials from overseas. Now we have new members that affect our lives: the actor, the messenger, the storyteller, the troubadour, the scribe, the artist. These newer members of our society enlighten and entertain us, the speak to our emotional centers and feed our souls.
We grow older, the number of those who speak to us grows. When we’re young we lose an occasional hero, and aged mentor. Suddenly we find each year-end review holding the names and biographies of more fallen idols. We recognize more names, we scan the birth dates and compare them with our own. How many more winters before the list contains more people from our own generation, our own decades? How many more seasons do we have before us?
The daylight vanishes quickly at the end of the year and we long for the days when the daylight seems endless. We mark those who have gone before us and promise to carry their spirit in our memories into the future. We resolve to take the lessons we’ve learned and swear to do better, our part of the bargain in exchange for another summer.