Another year, another time to marvel at existence

Questions about time and life often snap into sharp focus on New Year's Day.

Almost every day for the past year I've woken up with the same startled thought:

I'm alive.

Sometimes I lie there and say it aloud, though not on purpose. The words just pop out, as uninvited as a snore.

I'm alive.

I open my eyes and look at the room. It's here. I'm here. Again. Huh. Interesting.

The curtain rises on the mystery of another day.

This "I'm alive" thing started happening just after my brother Bill died, three days into 2013. Nothing puts your own mortality into perspective like the death of someone who is approximately your age, especially if it's someone you love.

My brother was a year younger than I am, with a wife he adored and two sons he hadn't finished raising, facts to which the universe was impervious. As we sat holding hands on his living room sofa last New Year's Eve, gazing at the tabletop Christmas tree with the lights we'd strung on it together, I knew we were ringing in his last new year.

I think he knew it, too, but making it to the new year seemed to matter to him. He fought to get that far, in defiance of medical predictions, hanging on, I sensed, because he wanted to cross the threshold one more time, into the fresh territory of January.

New year, new hope. We're bred to believe in the power of the calendar.

Bill got three mornings after last New Year's Eve to wake up to the daylight and think, "I'm alive."

So now when I wake up, I involuntarily think it, and though that might sound sad, that's not how the thought comes to me. It's more an intrigued observation, the way you might feel when you see a bird glide across the sky.

Wow. Amazing. Where did that bird come from? Where is it going?

Where did this day come from? Where is it going?

These kinds of questions — about time, life, the elusive truth of it all — are often snapped into sharp focus on New Year's Day. We may not perceive them as questions, but the frenzy of organizing and resolving that accompanies the new year is how we deal with the questions, trying to tame time through the force of will.

If we can just make it to another January, we can correct course, right what's wrong, permanently tidy up the sock drawer.

So we make resolutions:

Walk more. Sit less.

More sleep. Less caffeine.

More kale. Fewer Snickers bars.

CHICAGO

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