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Kunin: Happy New Year

01/05/10 5:55PM By Madeleine M. Kunin
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(HOST) For commentator Madeleine Kunin, the New Year brings with it thoughts of health, happiness and determined optimism.

(KUNIN) This time of year we automatically say, "Happy New Year," to friends, acquaintances, and even strangers, days after the champagne corks have popped and the fireworks are but a memory. It has become a standard greeting for the first days of January, partly to cheer ourselves up so we can face the rest of the winter.

At the Jewish New Year, which occurs in the fall according to the Jewish calendar, greeting the New Year is a more serious affair. Most people say, "I wish you a happy and healthy New Year," with the stress on the word "healthy." The New Year prayer theme is explicit: "May you be inscribed in the book of life."

Is the Jewish recognition of the New Year - it cannot really be called a celebration - more pessimistic than the non-denominational New Year that we all celebrate in one form or another? Or, are we too afraid to contemplate the possibility of ill health, or even death, in the New Year and therefore settle on the simple and easily understood word "happy?" which is all inclusive. It can mean anything from peace on earth to peace in the family, to peace of mind.

The word "happy" when we say it, almost makes us happy. We smile when we greet one another because we want to convey good will, and to wish someone else happiness, it’s almost a requirement that we look and sound happy ourselves. Is that why we’re so generous with the greeting, and happily non-specific?

If we start to seriously think about what might happen in the New Year, as so many pundits do at this time of year, we might not be really happy, unless, of course we are optimists.

There is a quotation I like which I sometimes include in my speeches when I encourage people to get politically engaged. It is: "Pessimists are usually right, but optimists change the world."

Pessimists, on this dawn of a new decade in 2010 might say that the economy will continue its slump, that terrorism will always be a threat, and that global warming will not be arrested. And they may be right.

Optimists, however, would say that the economy will improve, that we will strengthen our ability to stop terrorists from boarding airplanes, and this is the year that the leaders of the world will come to their senses and take action to stop raising the earth’s temperature ever higher and the seas from rising to new heights.

I come down on the side of the optimists, because, as the saying goes, only optimists are cock-eyed enough, determined enough, and gutsy enough to change the world.

So I say Happy New Year, yes, once again, Happy New Year. And may the earth and all the creatures on it, be inscribed in the Book of Life.

(TAG) You can find more commentaries by Madeleine Kunin on-line at VPR-dot-net.
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