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OpinionColumnistsMichael Dobie

A time of renewal and magic. Really?


Calendar. Credit: iStock

Another calendar has come off the wall and another year is underway.

I wish it felt like more of a real beginning.

The whole New Year's thing is a little arbitrary, of course. Every Jan. 1 we add to these Buck Rogers years of ours, but that's only one start of one kind of year. We're already three months into the Jewish calendar, the Islamic year started in October, and the Chinese version begins next month.

Then there's September. As a student for many years -- it took forever to graduate from college, which is what happens when you can only afford to go part time -- and as a parent of three students for many more years, the first day of school always seemed like the real beginning of a new year.

And the holidays in December, capped by New Year's Day, were like a pause that actually does refresh, and then the year continued.

As a child, even as a teen and young adult, the holidays were a magical time when everything was fun and games and sweets and snow and entire mornings in pajamas, as though it all was sprinkled with elf dust.

Maybe bad things were happening then, too, and we were willfully oblivious, creating a refuge for ourselves for those two weeks and not coming out until the page turned once more to January. Maybe when we were younger all our days were like that. Maybe I just feel things harder these days.

Two years ago, the Newtown shooting hung over the season. This year, it was the assassination of two New York City police officers following weeks of national protests over police shootings of unarmed black men.

As year's end approached, we craved a fresh start, a renewal.

Then another plane fell from the sky. And on the new year's first day, Mario Cuomo died. Both events stirred memories -- of other planes that suddenly had disappeared, of soaring and piercing oratory that's ever harder to find.

What seems to await in 2015, alas, is more yelling -- from people on either side of our racial divide, from our political leaders and their angry acolytes, from anyone invested in a controversial issue.

They all have points to make, some quite good, but it's hard to listen to someone else when you're more interested in making noise.

I watch the sound and fury that gets us nowhere and wonder what our kids are thinking.

I welcomed the new year by seeing the movie version of "Into The Woods," a wonderful mash-up of fairy tales in which children suddenly must confront a frightening real world.

Composer Stephen Sondheim's admonition to the adults in this half-magical universe is poignant:

Careful the things you say

Children will listen.

Careful the things you do

Children will see and learn.

A small group of these fairy-tale kids and adults, terrorized by a marauding giant whose anger they all had a hand in creating, starts to fracture and claw at one another before realizing they need each other to survive the destruction being wrought around them.

Sondheim's brilliant "No One is Alone" captures their duality.

Someone is on your side

Someone else is not.

While we're seeing our side

Maybe we forgot

They are not alone.

No one is alone.

Hard to see the light now

Just don't let it go.

Things will come out right now.

We can make it so.

Someone is on your side.

No one is alone.

Perhaps we can proceed into this new year -- together.

Wouldn't that be magical?

Michael Dobie is a member of the Newsday editorial board.