A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


I hate New Year's Eve. I really do.

I can't help it. Every New Year's Eve, my conscience thinks it has to do one of those "Year in Review" numbers on me. And for some reason, it always seems to play like a sports blooper reel.

Let's go to the video tape:

- "Here's Joe resolving to give more of himself to his children in 2001, and then, just hours later, getting after them for interrupting his enjoyment of the Rose Bowl."

- "Here he is on the bus, pretending to be so absorbed in the newspaper that he doesn't notice the tired young mother who could use some help wrestling three active children and a grocery bag."

- "And here he is making up an excuse for not donating blood. Or buying light bulbs from the disabled. Or taking his turn serving in the soup kitchen. Or giving a couple of quarters to the scruffy looking man on the street asking for spare change."

You get the picture? New Year's Eve is to me what Christmas Eve was to Ebeneezer Scrooge - long and humbling, filled with memories of broken promises and unfulfilled potential.

Which is probably why I love New Year's Day so much. Maybe it's because December 31st is such a downer. Or maybe it's just because January 1st is what it is: a clean slate, a fresh piece of paper, a blank canvas, an empty room - pick your favorite metaphor. New Year's Day is a new beginning, a chance to make a fresh start. If December 31st is Regret, January 1st is Hope.

There are a number of things I'll be hoping for this New Year's Day: a peaceful 2002, for one thing, and maybe a more equitable distribution of prosperity worldwide. But let's be honest - there isn't a lot that one individual acting independently can actually do about such things. I can hope for world peace, but unless I get a little help from Osama Bin Laden, George W. Bush and about a million other world leaders and opinion shapers, it's just not going to happen.

But there are some things I CAN do something about in 2002. I can do less lecturing and more listening with my children. I can perform an anonymous act of service each week. I can consume a little less of the earth's natural resources each day, and do a better job of recycling what I do use. I can write encouraging letters to effective public servants, and to film and television producers who create worthwhile entertainment. I can be less self-absorbed and more understanding, less demanding and more tolerant, less judgmental and more compassionate.

None of which is going to set this planet on its ear this year. But that's OK, because the fact is, I'm not going to change the entire world all by myself. No matter how kind and gentle I am, harshness and cruelty will, unfortunately, continue to exist somewhere. Still, I can make my little piece of the planet a better place on which to live. That's about all any of us can do. But if enough of us are out there trying to do the best we can do, and if we're looking out for each other - and for our children and for our children's children - the world becomes less intimidating because we know we're not alone. We've got friends. We've got family.

And maybe we've even got some New Year's Eve memories to savor - not regret.

# # #

--- © Joseph Walker


Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through