Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year!

Photo: taken in Paris, France
This picture is not enhanced in any way.

The New Year is here! Did you celebrate in style with pomp and jazz and all those noisemakers? Or did you keep it simple and quiet? Either way, entering the New Year is no longer confined to a decorum of loud parties and Niagara-Falls-rushing of champagne and liquor. A quiet evening at home with loved ones or friends, sharing a homecooked meal and some sparkling cider or the real Perrier Jouet at the stroke of midnight, is as much a celebration. For a celebration of life, health, family and friends and the hope for a better year has no strict definition. It's not always about the money and parties.

For many, the economic hurricane of 2008 has caused us to pause and reflect on priorities in life. Do we really need the shiny new model flatscreen TV or iPhone after purchasing one just a year ago? Probaby not.

The United States is still the land of opportunity and personal freedom, a garden of Eden. However, stemming from these opportunities are the forbidden fruits--unlimited credit --the hidden trap for maintaining ten or more credit cards, acquiring the latest appliances and electronics, or purchasing a new car every three years. How many of us live on the edge or beyond our means? 2008 was a wake up call. Do I really need a precious stone the color of bright hard candy and as big as an apple? No. Do I want one? Sure, in hot pink too ( the color of the year).

But alas, we have eaten the forbidden fruit and now are summoned to offer penance. No more fine dining where a glass of wine costs as much as the bottle in the supermarket. No more designer handbags and brand-name labels. Can we, as Americans who closet-worship ourselves more than any God, in the form of consumerism actually correct our myopic religion and put our future first? According to all the statistics, Americans repeatedly fail at upholding their New Year's resolutions, whether it's weight loss, the cessation of smoking, or saving a dollar a day.

But to suggest that most people will never change, no matter how much they want to, seems almost, well, un-American. After all, this is a country born of change (revolution), and our most cherished historical archetypes (the Pilgrims, the pioneers, the rags-to-riches entrepreneurs) are parables of reinvention. Bookstore shelves are swollen with the latest self-help books, and life-change gurus like Anthony Robbins, Dr. Phil and, yes, Oprah are pop-culture icons.

So what to do? Quit your job, sell your home, and live like a gypsie in the prairie land-a euphemism for a well-dressed homeless person. Perhaps without all the fancy cars speeding down the highway, designer clothes purposefully hanging off size zero mannequins, and TV commercials for Tiffany's jewelry, we might be grateful for what we have and do not need. Ok--it was a thought. Seriously, I think of the Amish population and their simple, home economic ways of living. Maybe a retreat in Amish country will remind us of what's truly important--health, a roof over our head, and nourishment.

Maybe starting small by taking leisurely walks with a friend, loved one or pet, we can appreciate the fresh air, the green trees, our limbs for walking, the intact homes and modern technology in the form of transportation. A great place for reflection, is, yes, Church, or Temple or Synagogue. Think of Church as a spiritual book club. Reading parables and interpreting it's poetic meaning for direction and clarity. Church is a great starting place for reflection and change. Another idea is volunteer work. If you had a difficult year, there are countless others who endured tougher times. Helping others less fortunate can be transforming.

It's all about going back to the basics. Taking a breather from the rat race and turning off the endless din of doom and superficial glamour on the TV, America can and will reign the New Year with a stronger sense of self preservation and self worth. We're not just dreamers, we are doers! We're all in this economy together. Let's act together!

Wishing you a prosperous 2009!

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