“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

Many of you will recognize the title of tonight’s post as a snippet of the first sentence (and paragraph) of “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens. That one sentence in its entirety has 119 words, 169 syllables with a Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease of -34.1 and a Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level of 47.6. The two metrics, courtesy of Readability-score.com, would indicate at a passing glance that the opening sentence would be impossible for most people to read much less comprehend. Yet the juxtaposition of the best of times enjoyed by England, and the worst of times endured by France, during 1775 is easily understood along with the subtle mockery by Dickens of “its noisiest authorities”. “Giving him/her the dickens” was a phrase meaning giving someone the devil back in Shakespeare’s time, a couple of centuries before Charles Dickens took pen in hand, though Mr. Dickens made a literary career out of bedeviling the unjust.

The past year was a study in juxtapositions. For some of you, 2012 was the best of times. There were births, graduations, engagements, promotions, weddings, new homes, favorite teams making the playoffs, and other celebratory achievements. For others, including me, 2012 was the worst of times. There were deaths (and far too many of them), divorces, lost jobs, lost homes, player lockouts, misfortune, and dashed hopes. For the rest of you, 2012 was just a year, neither good nor bad. It was merely indistinguishable and unnoteworthy from other years.

Humans are optimistic by nature. For thousands of years we have looked to the New Year to absolve the shortcomings and misfortunes of the old year and look forward with optimism that the new year will be better. It is more than huddling with people outside to see a ball or some other object drop, cuddling up with someone special while watching television coverage of New Year’s celebrations worldwide, or hoping for a kiss from someone special at the stroke of midnight, though all are enjoyable endeavors.

New Year’s symbolism echoes our optimism. The melancholy and decrepit old year gets ushered out and the joyous and innocent baby new year gets pressed into service. Our old year is weary from our tribulations, melancholy from our sorrows, and decrepit from bearing our burdens, while our new year is energetic, happy, and fit. We have weathered millennia of tragedy and strife, and no doubt will face other challenges in the upcoming year, but for this brief instant in time, all is happy and well. “Out with the old and in with the new” indeed.

For those of you on the roads tonight, please be careful and lay off the joy juice before driving. If you’re outside watching something drop besides the temperature, stay warm and enjoy yourselves! For those of you spending time with loved ones (or just a loved one), make the hugs meaningful, and enjoy your first kiss of the new year. Happy New Year, and may 2013 be better than 2012 for all of you!

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Filed under literature, philosophy, rebuilding

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