Any lingering thoughts I had about leaving home before Christmas were blown away by the gale force winds that brought snow to my mountain home. Christmas Day on Tybee was 60 degrees and sunny, but the next couple of days were windy and chilly with temperatures in the 40’s. A friend from Celo joined me for Christmas and is flying home tomorrow, uncertain if she’ll be able to get up the driveway to her house.
This weekend my son Kevin is flying in from Indiana for New Year’s Weekend. The town will celebrate with fireworks from the fishing pier at midnight and a Polar Plunge on New Year’s Day. The weather forecast calls for temperatures in the 70’s, which may make jumping into the 48 degrees of the Atlantic Ocean a little less heroic.
I’ve never been able to figure out why we celebrate the start of a New Year. It never changes anything. You wake up to the same problems and the same joys and then you mess up the first few checks you write by forgetting to change the year. You have to listen to a rehash on NPR or the network news shows of all the major news events of the past twelve months. This year ends a decade so there will be endless discussions of what kind of ten years we just lived through. If you can be a Scrooge about New Year’s then I say “Bah Humbug.”
Yesterday my friend and I took a Trolley Tour of Old Savannah. There are fifteen stops and the ticket allows you to get on and off all day. At stop #5 the driver listed the historic buildings nearby including St. John’s Episcopal Church. We decided to go have a look. The wind was cold and it felt good to step inside the warm building where we immediately saw a descreet sign announcing a service in progress in the chapel. We slipped into the small room with facing benches, two on each side. It was decorated for Christmas, and a Eucharist (Communion service) was in progress Most of the seats were filled with worshipers who were somber and very nicely dressed. I briefly wondered why there was a service on a Monday morning.
Instead of attending a church service on Christmas Eve or the Sunday after, the two of us had devised some ceremonies of our own. But the habits of a lifetime left me ready for this moment of corporate worship. We went forward with the others and knelt at the communion rail and I felt blessed by the serendipitous occasion. When we returned to the pew I noticed a service leaflet. I opened it to check for closing prayers and saw that we were participating in a Requiem preceding the commendation of ashes. It was for a man who had died in 2008. I wondered if he had given his body to a medical school and they had just now gotten the ashes back. The Eucharist ended and the priest quietly announced that he would remove his vestments and when he returned, the cortege would leave for the commendation. I motioned to my friend that we should go and we left quickly before anyone else. As we opened the door to leave the church I saw the cars lined up and heard a man barking into a cell phone. “Where is Jack? He is supposed to be here! Get him here now.”
Once back on the bus, I mused about the trappings of death that mainly comfort the living. Bill had never said what sort of service and commendation he wanted, and I asked him as he lay dying. He said hoarsely, “Keep it simple.” And we did. I once told my daughter I would like a boy choir to sing at my funeral, but I’d settle for a penny whistle.
It just occurred to me that all that hoopla at midnight on December thirty-first is perhaps more about the commendation of the ashes of the year just past than a celebration of something that might be better. All those recaps of the events of the year are the obituaries. Farewell 2010, it was a difficult year and we’re glad it’s over. Ashes to ashes and old years to dusty history.