Well, it’s official: the sun is not dying, leaving all of humanity to perish in the cold and dark as the days shorten to eternal night. It’s a new year, and we are already starting to see more time between sunrise and sunset! Fortunately no ritual sacrifices were required to trigger this celestial miracle, just good old-fashioned Newtonian mechanics.
Reflecting the universal, prehistoric relief over the return of warmth and light, many cultures have considered the new year to be an auspicious time, and we are no exception. We party, we make resolutions, we kiss at midnight – optimism and exuberance are what New Year’s is all about, aren’t they?
2014 has certainly had a promising start for me – something I find very gratifying after the rollercoaster that was 2013. There was a point last year at which I feared that my best-laid plans for a satisfying and meaningful career had gone completely awry. I kept plugging away, even though there were times it seemed my efforts would be fruitless. Then, I found myself back on track, with an engrossing and exciting new job – but one that takes me away from my family. For how long? I don’t know. I am waiting to find out. 2013 was full of uncertainty and both positive and negative stress. But, at the end, I spent two fantastic weeks home with my family, then went to New York City to attend the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) Annual Conference, where I would gather lots of useful information and contacts to help me do my new job even better. I have every reason to welcome 2014 with a heart full of optimism and exuberance.
The last night of the AALS conference featured a gala dinner at Cipriani’s, a restaurant on 42nd Street. The conference organizers had arranged for bus service to take attendees from the conference hotel, several blocks north of Times Square, to the restaurant, a convenience that most people took advantage of. But after two days of sitting in presentations, I was eager to get in a good walk in, so I made the hike, just over a mile down 7th Avenue, Broadway, and 42nd Street. Some of the sidewalks had a coating of dirty slush after the recent snowfall, but the streets were lively with families and lights and romance. I was, after all, walking through the echoes of the Times Square New Year’s countdown.
Nearing the restaurant, I unexpectedly passed by the iconic main building of the New York Public Library. The famous stone lions guarding the main entrance are festooned with wreaths for the holidays, and, dusted with snow, the two creatures looked simultaneously regal and festive, like the Ghost of Christmas Present. As most New Yorkers and trivia fans know, the lion on the left is named “Patience”. The lion on the right is “Fortitude”.
Those have not always been their names. When the Library opened in 1911, they were referred to as “Leo Astor” and “Leo Lenox”, after John Jacob Astor and James Lenox, the two philanthropists whose original collections formed the heart of the new library. But in the 1930s, New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, seeking a way to inspire his constituents as they struggled through the Great Depression, decided to make use of the granite felines’ increasing renown as a symbol of the city itself. He publicly rechristened the two lions with names evincing the qualities he felt his citizens could rely upon to get through the hard times. From that point forward, no matter how bleak the future looked, New Yorkers would always have Patience and Fortitude on their side.
Luck or karma had led me to the lions that night, and gave me the opportunity to reflect upon how patience and fortitude had helped me through the previous year. Optimism and exuberance did their part, sparking motivation and creativity as I sought to do the best I could for my students and myself. But sometimes, even they cannot generate the momentum needed to take you through an unforeseen rough patch or a series of blows. Patience and fortitude kept me moving forward when hope was hard to find.
So, here’s to the New Year! Celebrate the return of light, and warmth, and growth. But remember that the solstice doesn’t just tell us that things will get better – it tells us they are guaranteed to also get dark again someday. Cultivate optimism and exuberance, patience and fortitude, and you can continue to move towards fulfillment whether the path seems bright or gloomy.