So this is the new year.

2009 is here. Very early on New Year's day, as I was driving down 322 to get back to Philly, out of musical obligation I put Death Cab's "The New Year" on my iPod.  I love that the song opens with this line: So this is the new year / and I don't feel any different.

Pretty fitting with my own feelings about New Year's day.   That's how I feel about my birthday as well.  When that clock strikes twelve, I don't feel my bones take another step toward brittleness, or my skin add new wrinkles, or my youthful and impressive physique bow to gravity and decay.  I am merely here, alive, another day gone by.

I can understand the sentiments a lot of us feel about New Year's day.  I think we all need some type of benchmark, some point at which we can draw a line and bring closure to another period of our lives.  Just like sports substitute players, just like the light flashes red on my camera to let me know the battery needs to be recharged, just like the air filter needs to be replaced with a new, white one...We all need to be able to hit reset.  We need fresh starts.

Perhaps this was the year you couldn't find a steady job.  This was the year your uncle died.  This was the year you found out some friendships aren't going to last forever.  This was the year you became someone you don't recognize.  This was the year your heart was broken.  This was the year your heart was broken again.

Or maybe this was the year that simply lasted too long.

And so we gather with friends and family, we get dressed up or we dress down, we break out the champagne.  We party, or we play games, or we just talk and laugh.  We all wait in anticipation for midnight to come, to bring us into the new year.  Then it comes, we raise our glasses, and we hug and we cheer.  If we live in Philadelphia, we apparently walk the streets with guns and shoot them into the air (seriously...do people not realize that when you shoot something up, it comes back down...?).

When the clock strikes twelve,  I always expect to feel...something.  Anything.  A foreboding gust of wind blowing across my face.  A zap, like the shock of both hot and cold water when I first step into the shower.  Yet I still feel the same...and when I make my way to my bed that night, I am the same person with the same problems and same blessings as before.

I guess I'm used to being on the schedule of a student.  The biggest transitions for me usually seem to be either in early fall or late spring, when school begins and ends.  When we leave home to go to campus, and campus back to home, and our whole schedule changes, and sometimes our group of friends too.  Those, to me, seem to be the more obvious and pragmatic times for fresh starts and new beginnings.

All that considered, I see how so many of us may want, or may desperately need, to hold January 1st as our fresh start, as our recharging, our rebirth, or our realignment.

I guess the point of this whole mess of rambling is this: Don't get so caught up in the New Year's hype that you forget that we can have our fresh starts and our new beginnings at any time, not just on New Year's day.  Grace and redemption and renewal aren't reserved as once-a-year, one-use amenities.  So if you missed your opportunity to start over last week, or are already needing to start again, I want to remind you that you can.  Today.  Or February 18th.  Or July 21st.  Any day, any time.  Just not April 1st...then we can't take your fresh start seriously.