He came to me on New Years Eve as I stood outside gazing up at the stars—not so much a person (and not so much a light, as the Book says he can appear), but as a shadow in my own thoughts. He stood with me there beneath the moon and Venus and Orion, saying nothing at first, letting me speak because he can do no damage unless invited first.
“What are you doing here?” I asked him.
And he answered that he was roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.
“You still do that?”
Oh yes, he answered, oh yes indeed, I have done so for ages and will for ages more. Nothing gives me greater pleasure.
“Not many people believe in you anymore,” I told him. “You know that, right?”
He was well aware of that. In fact, he surprised me by saying that was what he wanted. It made things easier, he said, when it came to his work.
“Guess this is a pretty rough time of the year for you, huh?” I smiled as I said that, not because it was funny but because it was true. “You must hate Christmas more than the ACLU.”
True, he said. Christmas and Easter were not his favorite things. And he confessed that it was not so much the joy and peace that bothered him as it was the hope. He said he hated hope most of all. But tonight was New Years, and there was no better time for him.
Really? he asked, and in my mind I saw him shake his head in wonder. You really don’t know? Why, think about it. How many people this moment are huddled together in bars and at parties with drinks in their hands? How many right now are making their resolutions (he told me he loved resolutions almost as much as our nonbelief) and promising themselves they will do better this time around? As if things could change so easily just with the turning of the calendar!
He chuckled then, and there was a chill in his laugh that even the December wind could not match.
How many people out there want nothing more than to put this year behind them? he asked me. How many want to drink those memories away? And how many think this next year will be everything this year wasn’t? I’ll change, they say. I’ll do better. But in the end it never works, and do you know why?
Because change hurts. Because change won’t come until it hurts more to stay the same than it does to become something different. And that’s where I win. People will endure a plain life even if they want something more, because a plain life is a painless one.
He said something else to me then. It was soft and swallowed by the wind, but I think he said that he will always win so long as we believe we are ordinary. I’m almost positive that’s what he said.
He left me then under the stars. Midnight came and went, bringing with it another year—365 days that promise the same hope and fear and longing that every year before it has held.
I hope he doesn’t come back, even though I know he will. He comes to us all sooner or later, whether we believe in him or not.
This I know: the hope I long for and the change I want in myself won’t come as easy as the turning of a calendar page. It will be hard for me. For you, too. It will often hurt and sometimes seem impossible. But I think that’s how it should be.
None of us should want a plain life.
Because none of us are ordinary.