Really meaningful moments, I’ve often thought, occur spontaneously, without much warning.

When you first lock eyes with your future spouse. When you drive away to college. When your kid quits wearing diapers, or when that kid gets a driver’s license. When you lose that tennis match in the quarters, the one you never imagined you’d lose. When you see your first gray hair. When your mom dies.

They’re not formal occasions you plan for, the ones goosed by the greeting card industry. They’re the ones that hit you out of the blue.

Birthdays are mostly an excuse for cake. Christmas? Sure, there’s meaning, as there is at Thanksgiving and Easter. But something drains out of those days because of their very formality. Somehow being forced to celebrate something — or at least officially mark the occasion — sucks away vitality. What remains is the connection with those we love, and of course that’s never bad.

This comes to mind because of New Year’s Eve. To support my point, the real shift occurred the day they first stuck a vaccine needle in the arm of an American, earlier this month. Up to that point, there was no real change in the relevant facts. After that, everything could begin to move forward.

I have to admit, though, that the formal flipping of the calendar away from 2020 will feel a bit more real than a typical New Year’s. I guess that’s because New Year’s Eve is normally about anticipating the upcoming year, whereas this one is almost entirely about closing the books on the year we’ve just finished. It’s about getting past the illness, the infighting, the lockdowns and shutdowns and put-downs, the insults and injuries, the furloughs and low points, the lawsuits and recounts, the negative ads and positive tests. New Year’s will be less about resolutions, and more about relief.

Done with that. Good riddance. Time of your life? Maybe the worst.

Help’s already on the way. We’re already on the upswing. The page has already been turned. No need for a resolution. It’s not the start of a new year that’s really the start of something new. It’s saying goodbye to the crummy year we just finished.

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