Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Night the World Didn't End

Just half an hour from the new year, I find myself thinking back to the moment we passed out of the twentieth century and into the new millennium. In fact, I've been thinking about that moment quite a lot today.

The world, you may recall, was projected to end that night...or if not to end, to be transformed into something we'd never anticipated and wouldn't know how to live within, a place without electricity and other services we'd come to think of as necessities (all because someone back in the sixties or seventies forgot that there would one day be a 21st century when he was programming the world's computers).

Despite the impending collapse of our infrastructure, my husband and I took our kids downtown to First Night. First Night apparently occurs all over the country, and is a bit different everywhere, but our version that year included ice sculptures and street musicians, puppet shows, bands, hot chocolate, story time, live animals...something for every age. Our kids were three, seven and nine, and so we bounced from children's stories at the library to live animals to art. Then my sister and her boyfriend joined us, and we threw some live music into the mix.

My sister had a boyfriend then that I loved; he and my husband were friends. Ten years after their breakup, my daughter still calls him "Uncle Matt"--she called him that at his wedding two summers ago. We were at the animal show when they walked in, some amazing specimen of big cat on the stage seeming far too powerful for the small room, and my sister took my breath away. Eyes wide and dark from across the room, in a brand-new gray wool coat over head-to-toe black, she was so beautiful that she momentarily eclipsed everyone and everything else in the room.

At midnight, the seven of us walked out onto the bridge over the river and watched fireworks in the snow. I remembered, while hundreds of people in the street counted down to the new year, that it was all supposed to implode at midnight, and I couldn't have cared less. If the world was going to end, I couldn't think of a better time or place for it, happy children warm in our arms, eyes toward the sky, my husband and my beautiful little sister at my side. If the world was going to end, I couldn't think of a better note to go out on.

Of course, life went on. The wide-eyed nine-year-old who had never seen an ice sculpture before is a mother this New Years, the boy who lay down on the chairs in the animal show is in high school, and my baby in her father's arms on the bridge will be thirteen in just a few weeks. Sometimes that makes me smile and sometimes it makes me sad--but never has a New Year's Eve passed since that I haven't remembered that moment on the bridge.

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