04 January 2007

Burning sadness

A dear friend from Berkeley stayed with us for a couple of days over New Year's. He invited us to participate in his New Year's Eve tradition of writing down, on individual slips of paper, the Bad Stuff from the year just ending -- the events, thoughts, memories, and feelings you want to leave behind -- and then burning them, one by one.

It was a rough year, in many ways, for all of us. I focused on particulars -- my Mom's decline and death in June, the loss of other friends, concerns about my sibs. Jer took a more global approach; one of his slips read sadness. What he meant was the pervasive feeling that had been with him for the last many months -- sadness about politics, absent friends, aging.

The next day was our annual Hoppin' John Open House, when we invite friends and neighbors to drop by for a bowl of black-eyed peas and some cornbread. It's an old Southern tradition: Hoppin' John on New Year's Day guarantees prosperity for the rest of the year. It's just beans, basically, cooked with a token quantity of salt pork or ham hock. But the meat, even a small amount, flavors the whole pot, so it's sort of a trickle-down-wealth effect.

It was a fine party, if I say so myself, with lots of cross-pollinations, folks who didn't know each other discovering common interests -- quilting, sustainable agriculture, beer-brewing, studying piano. Since Jerry did all the cooking, I cleaned up afterwards and, finally, rewarded myself with a bowl of Hoppin' John, a couple slabs of cornbread, and some red wine in a real glass.

Toward the end, after most of the guests had left, a young friend showed up with her daughter and a recently-acquired accordion that she'd been teaching herself to play. She asked if she could play one song for us, one she'd been practicing because it was appropriate for the occasion, and then made her way through Auld Lang Syne. It was a very sweet moment.

It's been a busy week, one big whoosh of non-routine. I'm still looking forward to that calm, reflective period when you sit quietly and think, "Well, a whole new year, as yet bright and untarnished; whatever will it hold?" Instead, I spent most of yesterday, the first "normal" day of 2007, weeding through my Sea Ranch files and making room for Mom's memorabilia and other documents (which I'll weed through later), and finishing Joan Didion's book, The Year of Magical Thinking. Both of those felt like a coda to the events of 2006.

I want to believe that 2007 will be a much better year. But the truth is that 2006 had its bright spots as well. And this year will have its depths. For now, my only New Year's resolution is to focus on the Good Stuff for as long as I can.


Gerrie said...

The Hoppon John was wonderful. Thanks for including us. I love the ritual that you participated in on New Year's eve. I've done this before, not on New Year's eve. There is something cathatric about giving up bad stuff, even if it is only on paper.

Gerrie said...

I meant Hoppin' John! :)

Libbi said...

I, too, am hoping 2007 will be an improvement over 2006. Focusing on the Good Stuff will help, for sure!