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The Passage of Time Is a Sobering Ritual

December 30, 1985|KRISTINE McKENNA | McKenna is a Los Angeles writer. and

Rites of passage--weddings, funerals, graduations--are invariably disconcerting affairs, and New Year's is the most unnerving ritual of all, as it commemorates nothing but the passage of time. With no cute couple or new baby to coo over, no promotion to be toasted, New Year's is an occasion with a gaping hole dead center, and the world tries to fill that hole up with booze.

By all rights, New Year's should be a day of introspection, a somber meditation on time. Time, however, can be a rather frightening subject for contemplation, being, as it is, the ultimate metaphor for mortality, the river that sweeps us all to the same inevitable conclusion.

Paradoxically, the calendar is an inaccurate measure of human experience, as life doesn't unfold in an orderly, linear fashion so much as it expands in fits and starts. Sometimes it moves at an agonizingly slow pace, and fate just doesn't seem to be dealing us into the game. Then there are tumultuous periods when we live a lifetime in a week. Realizations of this sort make New Year's a schizophrenic affair.

It's human nature to giggle when nervous, and we collapse into hysterical laughter on Dec. 31. The world makes a frantic noise in an effort to drown out the sound of the ticking clock, and struggles to obscure the truth of the occasion by dressing it up in garish party hats and tinsel. The pressure to have loud fun is overwhelming, and New Year's invites, no, demands , that we be sociable and high-spirited.

Perhaps it's simply childish rebelliousness that renders me crippled with melancholy on Dec. 31, but I insist that contrary to what Club Med would have me believe, lightheartedness cannot be mandated. It's a tough job being a party animal and not all of us can cut it. I'm sure there must be countless souls who face New Year's with a bewildered sense of foreboding.

I know this, and yet, regardless of how I pass the evening, what I do or don't drink, this night leaves me feeling the only wallflower at the World Prom. I presume I'd find carefree revelers carousing on every corner if I dared venture a look--which I rarely do. My instincts bid me to lay low until the whole thing blows over.

Yes, there's bad voodoo in the air on this night, and a lot of tanked up people racing to escape it. "It"--the baddest voodoo of all--being the terrifying awareness that life races by in a minute and we squander much of it. It's usually around Dec. 31 that I realize in a sudden fit of anxiety that I spent a major portion of the year just peeking through keyholes, blind to the panoramic view.

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