The first time I saw the sun rise upon a new year was 1990. I was seventeen then. It was at a party thrown by a pretty girl at school. Her father was a doctor before the cancer took him. They lived in the oldest home in town, a bricked farmhouse settled in the middle of cornfields that had gone from verdant to brown as the cold months settled in. I didn’t want to go to that party. She was rich and her rich friends would be there. But she’d invited me and I’d said yes. When you’re seventeen, the last way you want to watch the ball drop is on the sofa with your parents.
The whole thing went as expected. Lots of food I could not pronounce, let alone knew how to eat. Lots of noise that went into my ears and bored into a deep place in my head, throbbing my temples. When midnight came and Dick Clark began his countdown, there were cheers from those who’d come alone and wet, sloppy kisses from those who’d brought dates. That was my first New Year’s party. Also my last.
It was to be an all night affair of movies and music and raging hormones. I hung in there as long as I could, around six that next morning. I snuck away and took a walk in those lonely fields. There is a silence in the world’s open places that deepens come winter, one so thick you don’t walk through it as much as push it aside. Such was the quiet I found in the midst of those cold and broken stalks left by the autumn harvest. It was peace and stillness around me and the faint yellows and oranges of morning bearing up over the Blue Ridge ahead and a long swath of the Milky Way winking out above. And though I was too young to understand why, I knew then that this was the way to say goodbye to the old and hello to the new.
I have celebrated New Year’s that same way since, all twenty-two of them. I will celebrate tonight’s that same way as well. Because to me, a beginning is best made at sunrise than in the midst of night. You can watch yourself take that first step. You can make sure you land in a solid place.
I will stand in my front yard instead of a field this year, and I will be the man I am rather than the boy I was. But there will still be the deep silence and the stars overhead and morning about to pour down from the mountaintops. I will stand there and know we have made it through yet another year. We have survived. Bruised, yes. But here. And I will know that all those cares that burden me and all those worries that engulf me are held in God’s open palm, and I will be glad.