A common depiction of the passing of one year and the coming of another is a drawing of a bearded old guy trudging offstage while an all-smiles baby makes his way front and center. There's hope embodied in the metaphor, isn't there -- the suggestion that something fresh is replacing something worn out and used up?

That's surely not so bad a way to regard the New Year. Whatever good there may have been in the year gone by, there were likely disappointments, including disappointments in ourselves. Here and there we even may have had a whiff of defeat -- or serious grief. But as we look ahead to a new cycle of seasons, we can look ahead to new opportunities and resolve to make the best of them.

After all, it's not out of nothing that holiday traditions come into existence. The human spirit has its needs, one of which is renewal. So when the clock struck the hour of change from 2003 to 2004, many of us cheered and kissed a loved one. We may then have reviewed in our minds objectives for the months to come, we may have clothed ourselves in the optimism that is common to America and we likely proved ourselves generous with a wish we offered to all within our hearing: Happy New Year!

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