As I stood at the balcony by the sea, leaning onto the varnished wooden banisters, little lights shimmered on the shivery surface of the ocean, far and near. It was 11.57pm, December 31st of 2019, the last day of the year, the last day of the decade.
It’s been a long day, traveling from Penang to Kuala Perlis, and from there, by boat, to Langkawi Island. There’s booze in my system, wine and beer and rum, so that the ocean and the yachts parked by the jetty and the faraway buildings appeared to be hazed by a screen of gauze.
As the year, and the decade came to a close, second by second, minute by minute, I gazed at the sea and the distant shore and listened to the human commotion at the restaurant right beneath the balcony on the patio of the hotel, everyone eager but also nervous for the new year to arrive.
New Year’s Eve
New Years. I have never understood the concept of celebrating the coming of a new year. Time trickles by and we pass through it and that’s it. We mature and grow old. First we change physically, and then our thoughts more and more coherent, so that we can fit into society, and then at the peak of our physical and mental condition, we devote ourselves to work and to studies, so that we can fulfill our dreams and satisfy our desires. And then our hands shake, our bodies and minds can’t move as freely as we used to, we are no longer nimble and agile, our movements slower, more composed. In the end, we pass away, leaving behind our work and our offspring, or not, and we instead become lost as nameless figures in history.
In the face of that, years, months, weeks and days, all units of measurement we used to connote and quantify time are fictional and made-up, for the ease of calculation, sure, but that’s all there is to it. A new year in and of itself doesn’t mean anything and the opinion that it does, and that along with the opening of a new chapter, there comes change and excitement is entirely fictional and fallacious.
The Dream of a New Us
The crowd stirred below me. Their heads turning and swiveling as they await the coming celebration and the fireworks. And I saw on their hopeful faces the eagerness for a fresh new start in a fresh new year. The leaf of the page is turned, and upon that page is blankness, awaiting our hand, for us to write our dreams and hopes and desires upon it.
This dream is so common among us. It can be seen especially in the custom of setting new year’s resolutions right as the year is about to end. But when have the resolutions been achieved for most of us? And aren’t they the same as they were before, all written along the same lines of “I want to be a better person”, “I want to be healthier”, or “I want something new in my life”?
A new year signifies nothing in itself. And to expect that this year everything will be different without a total paradigm shift in thought and behavior is nothing but pipe dreams.
I am not saying that people as a group or as individuals can’t change for the better. We can. But with change comes hardship and regret and longing for an easier past. Ironically, despite all our yearnings for change, we are perfectly comfortable with inertia (see this article), as change, specifically changing ourselves, removing ourselves out of our comfort zones is hard. It is unexpectedly hard.
Human potential is vast and infinite. But to change is to act. Nothing will come of its own accord. It is magical and wishful thinking to say, “New Year, New Me,” when there is no action. That’s why the root of the word “change” (from old French “chaunge / changier“) means “to alter, to become something other than what it was”. It requires us to shed old skins, and to do that, not only we have to believe that is possible, but also to do that which is possible and within our powers to do so.
Our hopes grew too high and too ambitious, everything will topple down as we perceive the impossibility of our dreams, and then we let go, reverting back to the selves that we hate and despise, that we have previously so desperately wanted to escape but can’t (see False Hope Syndrome). But that is not to be, to change is to persist despite the odds, and to expect setbacks, disappointments, and a relapse into old ways. For what is more human than to fail, and then to try again, and again and again and again.
My thoughts wander as I ponder on the concept and celebration of the New Year’s Eve. My watch says that it was 11.59PM. It has only been two minutes since when I first started thinking about this, an unexpectedly short time. Maybe my watch is a bit off, and I should head back inside for another minute or so.
And then, I saw, on the black surface of the sea, on the plank boardwalks, on the walls of the hotel, green lights, red lights, yellow lights, rising higher and higher, so that as it rose the lights grew fainter but the horizon brightens. And I hear the loud booms and crackles, trails of brightness that expanded and fizzled out, and then more explosions, behind us at Eagle Square, faraway on distant shores, all around us. The ocean grew vivid with color, like ink drops in water, all civilization aglow under the exploding sky that smelled of sulfur and ash, amidst cheers and hugs and greetings from passersby.
It is a wonderful thing to be swept along the emotions of the crowd, to sway with its currents. A new year may not mean a new me, but gazing at their hopeful faces, it certainly made me believe in the possibility to become so. And I start to see why for some, such an event can mean something bigger than it actually was. That it is a date on the calendar, sure, but it can also not just be a date. It is a farewell and a greeting at the same time, to the past and the future. Some people need that sort of faith, and who am I to judge and deny them that privilege.
I peeked at my watch, it was 12.17 AM when the commotion ended and the crowd dispersed. It will be morning in 7 hours, and we have to wake up at 8 AM for breakfast, then go island hopping. So another long day ahead, better go to sleep. Right before I turned to walk back into the living room, I have one last look at the scenery before me.
Beneath the darkened skies, the sea is as depthless as the heavens. The stars and the crescent moon and the lights from towering buildings right by the beach reflected off the ocean in silver flecks. Everything hazed and hidden in the shadows, so that the yachts and speedboats before me on the jetty are but pale glistening outlines in the dark. As I listened to the waves crash upon waves, and to the creaking of the boats as they sway with the sea breeze and the waves, I thought that our hearts are as mysterious and as unknowable as the depths of the sea, but also as filled with possibility and wonder as well. I used to not believe that, but I think I do now. I sincerely do.
With you, MY Psychology.
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