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Celebration is actually just a rite of survival

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© St. Petersburg Times, published January 1, 2001

Why, exactly, do we celebrate the new year?

For most of us, it's when our insurance deductibles kick in again. Unless you cheat like I do and predate a bunch of checks, you'll be writing the wrong date on them until sometime in mid-March.

Most of us are broke from holiday shopping, exhausted from entertaining and being entertained, and stressed to the limit from being torn in three different directions at once.

The fact that a few eggnogs and a Christmas cookie or two have made our pants fit tighter doesn't help.

We have to buy new tags for our cars, start paying the new increased hospitalization insurance premiums (the increases are our fastest-growing American tradition) and realize that we have only 105 days in which to decide how much of the little money we have left goes to the government.

Yet, just like the guys at the stock exchange when the bell rings to close a trading day, good or bad, we celebrate.

Maybe that's what the celebration is -- a rite of survival.

I've reached that age when any annual taking-stock mental excursions at this time of year automatically take me through memories of those we have lost during the year.

This year, it was people that I somehow had thought would last forever. I knew better intellectually, but they were so much a part of my life and their communities that I find a world without them in it to be strange and somehow lacking.

My dear friend Suzie Hayes, maybe the most pleasant and caring person I have ever known, succumbed to the cancer she had battled for years. Sally Massey, an icon of Dade City society, left us. Johnny Clower, a popular Dade City restaurateur whose service to his community was simply a given, died. And Diamond Teeth Mary, a blues shouter and singer who was 91 when I met her and had six more years of a wonderful talent to share with the world, died at 97 this year.

Adam Morris, the 20-year-old son of a friend, a kid full of promise and desire to make the world a better place, drowned in November, and a few weeks earlier, Pasco County lost a great educator and I lost a great friend with the death of Greta Adams.

Part of my dark mood begins at the first of December, when I write about the unsolved murders of children and young adults from the North Suncoast. Reliving even a tiny fraction of the pain of those parents and loved ones is a reminder that loss isn't a matter of an instant; it is that instant and all the others to follow.

So there is no doubt that our special observance of the passage of what is, after all, an arbitrary point in one way of measuring time, has to do with putting the bad things of the year behind us.

A good way to do that is to remember the good.

I got engaged this year, and in the process acquired a large famly-to-be and, because of Betty's political persuasion, a new way of looking at Republicans, including some that I had improperly prejudged. (A little reminder that our own frailties and failings are also a fit subject for review at this time of year.)

I bought one vehicle, had it stolen, bought a better one. Got to visit my grandchildren and actually, with Betty's help, got my house cleaned up. And, yes, that does count as a major accomplishment. You should have seen it. ("I didn't know you had tile in here," said a frequent visitor on seeing my reclaimed kitchen.)

Much has been made (by myself, among others) about this being the beginning of a new century and a new millennium.

Since I won't be around to see the end of either, I find it better to take it one year at a time and concentrate on the trials and treasures that are sure to come in the new year and to celebrate the fact that, for better or worse, I at least have the option of dealing with them.

I hope that each of you finds more pluses than minuses on your list this year and that the balance will be even more lopsided in your favor in the future.

Stay safe. Readers are too important to me to lose.

Don't drive and drink.

Have a good time.

See you next year.

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