I’ll always remember last New Year’s Eve as one of the best times I’ve ever had in this little hometown of mine.
We started the day off right by watching Lynn Bowden toss a touchdown winning pass to Josh Ali for Kentucky to win the Belk Bowl. My dad says he’ll always remember that game for how badly he felt while lying on the couch watching it; we had no idea at the time, of course, but we know now that he was dealing with that ol’ coronavirus, as we all had at some point that December (I was just getting over my bout).
But that night was kind of magical. There are many folks around here who remember growing up in a thriving downtown Somerset, but I came from the generation that saw only a wasteland of empty storefronts and dull office buildings, where the most nightlife one could expect was to be a part of the merry pranksters who underwent that local rite of passage, putting suds in the fountain (I never did, mind you). The average New Year’s Eve saw downtown as desolate as the desert.
But not New Year’s Eve 2019. The fact that we had a ball-dropping ceremony — well, a propeller logo in our case, but whatever — in Somerset of all places was so cool. We had this great live music — Earth, Wind, and Fire songs, Stevie Wonder, all this great stuff — and this fantastic energy in the crowd gathered around the Fountain Square and all this goodwill and excitement. It was just a great place to be, a great time to be there, soaking everything up and letting it feed the soul.
Boy, did we not know what was in store for 2020.
Needless to say, we did not gather on the square this New Year’s Eve. In fact, it was a pretty lonely place, aside from the Moonlight Festival and a few Somernites Saturdays. Walker Weekend moved. The Christmas Parade — cancelled. Food truck festivals and Derby Day fun — cancelled. Not even the rogue swimmers found their way into the fountain this year (which is probably a good thing, but still ... I do like traditions).
We all know why this was. I won’t get into it any further than that. After all, these weren’t my events to decide upon and nobody asked me. I may know my share of things, but I don’t think anyone considers me an expert in anything that matters.
But if 2020 did anything for us, it framed the past. It made every flavor of every memory taste so much sweeter. It made every color of the mind’s eye so much brighter. And it showed why the experiences we’ve had in life should be valued so highly.
Nothing can be taken for granted. We don’t know what the future will hold. We really don’t know if “normal” will ever return — after all, it’s always changing its shade in front of our eyes as it is, but usually much more slowly and deceptively. The future will always hold the upper hand on us, and the present is nothing but sand that continually slips through our fingertips, a mirage. The present is like a lap — it feels like it should be real, but is just a trick of perspective.
But memory is firm. Memory is real. It exists. Even though it can play tricks on us at times, like the so-called “Mandela Effect,” where we are sure of a certain detail that’s actually incorrect, and although matters of perspective can warp the definitive record, like the many mirrors of a funhouse, the truth is this — the past is all we really own.
Spend time with your memories. Spend time with the past. If it is captured in an object, take a moment or two to pick up that object and look at it — let the history contains flood over you.
Remember the people who mattered to you, and why. Remember your past relationships — don’t recall the bad about your exes, but the good, why you fell in love with them in the first place. Remember your old friendships, the neighborhood kids with whom you ran around climbing trees, riding bikes, or pretending to be G.I. Joe soldiers fighting Cobra (or whatever might have been the popular “good guys vs. bad guys” media of your childhood). Remember your loved ones, your family members — both those still alive and departed. Get old out photo albums and look at pictures of yourself as a kid. What your mom and dad used to look like. What your grandparents looked like at your age.
Take big, juicy bites out of the past at every opportunity and savor the taste of them. They are the gifts life leaves for you, scattered around your brain like wrapped presents under the Christmas tree. Life is a struggle. We put in so much time, so much energy — every day is a fight for survival. Our past — not the future — is our reward. The past even collects interest — the currency of goodwill builds. Moments in life can seem better than they were. It might have been hard times getting by when you were just starting out, but just think about that era in your life now — doesn’t it seem such a fond memory? Isn’t there a part of you that wishes you could go back and experience it, if just for a day? Just for a fleeting moment?
The well-known (if fictional) psychiatrist Dr. Lilith Sternin-Crane once said, “With one hand the past moves us forward, and with the other it holds us back.” We are pushed forward only because time is an unstoppable torrent, a rushing river which never turns and runs downstream. But if the past also holds back, it is not necessarily in the sense that interrupts our progress; instead, that “hold” is a loving embrace, one that reminds us to never forget, never truly leave behind everything we’ve experienced to this point that once mattered so much to us, or perhaps matters now more than ever.
I do not know what New Year’s Eve 2021 will be like; the future is not so generous as the past. But I do remember the end of 2019, and it’s a wonderful real thing burned into my mind and into my soul. Find that memory which brings you joy and hold onto it. Drink it in. Spend spare moments with it. Because our memories, ultimately, are the only thing we have with us all the way through life. They are our truest treasures.