By FATHER JAMES S. BEHRENS, OCSO | Published January 5, 2012
New Year’s Eves are always quiet here at the monastery. I do not know of any monks who stay up through midnight. If there are, they welcome the New Year unnoticed. Most of us are long asleep by the time the New Year rolls into town. But that does not mean that it is not on our minds and in our prayers, our reflections, our hopeful expectations and our worries.
When I was younger I enjoyed going to parish parties and, on some occasions, going out to dinner with close friends. Those were good times. I never ventured into Manhattan to see the big ball drop. The crowds were too much for me, and it was often very cold on that night.
I knew a priest who would drive into Manhattan by himself and join the thousands of revelers. He told me he always had a great time, which I could not figure out. Well, to each his or her own.
For me, the New Year brings on a host of past memories. I think of those I have loved and who are now gone. I think of the good times we had and how when I shared those times with them, I did not appreciate the beauty and the wonder that they brought to my life.
When my mom and dad were alive, I spent many a New Year’s Eve with them at their home in Covington, La. They were originally from New Orleans, and when dad retired, they decided to settle back in the New Orleans area.
The move was good for them. They enjoyed more than 20 years in place that was good, that was home to them. They made many good friends and renewed ties with old friends and family who still lived in or near the Crescent City. I would head down from New Jersey every year, leaving on the day after Christmas and staying for 10 days. It was wonderful.
Dad and Mom would pick me up at the airport, and I remember the long ride across Lake Pontchartrain, watching the waters of the lake and thinking about the passage of time. We had each other then, and it was good.
On New Year’s Eve, we would sit in front of the TV and watch the shows—mostly the live coverage from Manhattan. At the stroke of midnight, I would kiss them and give them a hug, wishing them the best in the year to come. The neighbors across the street set off fireworks every year at midnight. It was quite a racket—but the police never came. I guess they were used to a lot of revelry on that night. As I recall, we did not mind it, either.
The years pass. I am older now—about the same age my dad was when he retired. I wonder where they are and how they are. I believe in a life after this one but have no idea what that life is like. Is it here, unseen by us? Or is it a place, far away, a place of beauty and eternal life? I do not know.
What I do know is that in the years I had with them, and with others who have gone home along the way, our hearts brimmed with hope and goodness on New Year’s Eve. Maybe a part of that hope was a desire to slow time down, to make it last. That wish grows stronger the older I get.
Someday, it will be time for me to move on, to leave this life and pass on to the next. I have no control over that, which is something to ponder in this day and age when we think that we can exercise control over almost everything. But not our lives, not our deaths.
We belong to God, and he is the one who has the last and hopefully good say in all things.
I hope there is a welcome area in Paradise. I like to think that Mom and Dad will be waiting for me when I arrive, for that flight will surely be on time. And I will cry with joy and hug them and kiss them, and ride across the waters of eternal life, into a year that lasts forever. I believe that will happen. It is the truth I knew here, the truth they gave me, in the best of times.