Light in the Darkness

New Year’s has always been something of an anomaly to me. When I was a child I was not at all sure what it meant, how the transition from December 31 to January 1 at midnight was different from July 31 to August 1. “It’s the end of one year and the beginning of a new year” my mother explained. “But, what does that mean?” I persisted. “What exactly happens?” My father, always whimsical, told me that there is an empty space between the old and new year, and that if you watched very carefully, exactly at midnight, you could see it. “But you have to watch carefully because it happens very quickly.” Rules in our home were fairly rigid but the normal bedtime was abrogated and my little brother and I were allowed to stay up for the big event on New Year’s Eve. We listened on the huge, floor-model Philco radio, later watched on television, to the countdown to the ball drop in Times Square and precisely at midnight Billy and I, and sometimes Mother and Dad, took pots and pans and pot lids from the kitchen out onto our front porch, clanged them together and shouted, as loudly as we could “Happy New Year!” into the cold, dark night. And, of course, we watched for the space between the years. My father assured me that it would happen and, on occasion, my brother and I agreed as we fell asleep, that, in fact, it happened and we had seen it!

In high school New Year’s was the occasion for simple parties, Sloppy Joes and Cokes, in my girlfriend’s home which was always open and welcoming to our crew of friends, adolescent boys competing to see who could eat my future mother-in-law’s incomparable Sloppy Joes, and then tentatively exchanging kisses with our dates at midnight because that’s what adults do. During college New Year’s Eve was the occasion for our hometown’s annual formal dance for which we put on our best clothes, suits and ties, and spent the evening trying to persuade the skeptical bartender that we were old enough to order and drink Seven and Sevens, and Rum and Cokes.

Over the years New Year’s Eve has slowly evolved from late, noisy beginnings to a quiet, mostly family time, in truth – just my wife and I, sharing a glass of champagne, a nice dinner, talking about what the year had brought us and retiring after watching the Times Square ball drop which, happily for us, happens at 11:00pm Chicago time, midnight being alien territory for us these days.

The passing of time remains as much of a mystery to me as that empty space flying down 21st Avenue at midnight. But I still find that it is a time for modest accounting of all the wonders of the last year: my amazing children and equally amazing spouses, and my lively, funny, brave, passionate and always surprising grandchildren – one of whom just presented his sweetie with a diamond ring – a grandson about to marry! It takes my breath away!

I am concerned about the state of the world this New Year’s: the never ending violence and war, the emergence of murderous terrorist groups sometimes using the guise of religion to inspire and justify their brutal inhumanity; climate change and global warming now ominously expressed in bizarre weather – the warmest year ever, floods, tornadoes, drought and wild fires – and most appalling of all, the stubborn refusal of one of our two political parties even to acknowledge a reality that the world’s scientists having been warning us about for years, let alone acting boldly and decisively before it is too late. I am concerned about the racism I believed a few decades ago we were finally eradicating from our national psyche but today expresses itself in our two-tiered criminal justice system and an unthinkable pattern of police shooting and killing of African Americans, mostly men and boys.

And I do worry about unprecedented and dangerous demagoguery appealing to the very worst of our humanness – fear, nativism, selfishness, prejudice.

My faith, however, reminds me that all of history plays out within the sovereignty of a compassionate, loving, just and patient God: reminds me to keep watching for light in the darkness, reminds me that the light of God’s love, unlike that mysterious space on New Year’s Eve, is a reality I, we, all of us, are invited to trust with our very lives.


  1. Blair Monie says:

    So well said, John. I can identify. May it be a healthy, blessed, and peace-giving New Year. I’ll be watching for the “space.”

  2. Again, a beautiful piece to ring in the New Year. Yes, may we find the elusive peace and wisdom that we all seek and so desperately need.

  3. Happy New Year, John. God bless you for your ministry.

  4. David A. Donovan says:

    Oh, I identify with all you have written here. Thanks for putting it into words!!

  5. Ann Forshey Frontain says:

    I can see your Father saying that!! Happy New Year, John.

  6. I think I saw the space this year….Blessings for the New Year, John.

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