I love the image of the blank slate, the fresh canvas, the empty page. The thought of turning from the past and moving on into a pristine future is deeply appealing. Like feet of freshly-fallen snow, a new year blankets the disappointments and pain, conflicts and loss of the old with beauty and peace. Glinting in the sunlight, piled high on fenceposts and streets, whorling into intricate patterns against parking lots and sheds, the fresh emptiness of snow gives the illusion of clarity and simplicity. Clean as a fresh canvas, empty as a page still waiting for words, it tempts us to believe in a world equally freed from complexity and ambiguity, a world reduced, like the visions of Ansel Adams, to the twin realities of sunlight and shadow.
But if we choose to believe in the permanence of that world, we believe at our peril. Eventually, things heat up. As drifts disappear, branches and roof lines begin to drip and the outlines of human necessity muddy the pristine beauty around us. Plowed streets, curbed piles of dirty snow and the general soppiness of life during a snow melt remind that the gritty realities of an imperfect world still exist. They only have been hidden beneath that beautiful, pristine blanket.
As it is for the landscape, so it is for life. Whatever else the new year grants us, there will be no blank slate, no empty page. Those streamers following the New Year baby into the future are ribbons of the past, and no matter how diligently we try to unknot them and let them go, their tattered and torn remnants will be there at our celebration of 2010. The question, then, is how to approach a New Year. If a perfectly blank slate is impossible, if it’s as certain as spring that life is going to begin heating up and melt away our lovely illusions of simplicity and perfection, how can we embrace the new, while accepting the presence of the old? (more…)