Something miraculous happens around this time every year. Besides the birth of Christ, the winter solstice and the whole Santa Claus thing.
I drag my burned-out butt to the end of December convinced that the current year will go down in history as one of the most depressing, chaotic, soul-crushing 12 months ever. That goes double for 2004, given the mind-numbing presidential campaign and heart-breaking election results.
Yet somehow on New Year's Day or shortly afterward I awake to an amazingly hopeful sense that things will get better in the coming year, and I come to work the Monday after the holiday break with a renewed feeling of purpose and possibility.
Sometimes that feeling lasts a good three or four weeks, and sometimes it's squashed listening to voicemails on my first morning back in the office. But the hope and promise of a new start in a new year always seem to materialize magically.
Maybe it's the result of slowing down at the holiday season and doing what we know we should be doing all the time — appreciating family and friends, thinking of others, reflecting on our blessings. This year we got slowed down even more by the big snowstorm.
I have two small children and a good number of nieces and nephews and friends with kids, so the holidays are usually filtered through their eyes, as it should be.
Watching the kids excitedly open presents, check to see if Santa ate the cookies they left out and give each other small items they bought with their own money begins to melt even the iciest hearts.
Of course those scenes always take me back to my own childhood, when my parents were young and passing on traditions from their own childhoods. That's about as warm and fuzzy as it gets.
Maybe the season's more primordial attractions also influence this mood swing. Our ancient ancestors knew something about the significance of the mid-winter change from ever shortening days to lengthening days, and Christian Western culture appropriated much of the solstice celebration into the birth (and rebirth) story of Christmas.
Many people believe in tuning their bodies to the rhythms of the natural world, and I think they're on to something. Maybe we're naturally renewed in some sense when the world literally turns toward spring.
And so every December the magic appears from nowhere and everywhere, and before you know it you find yourself emerging from a cosmic car wash that's scrubbed away the year's grime, salt and bird poop. It's like finding a $20 bill in your shirt pocket — no reason to overthink it, just smile and move on.
I don't know if this week's cover story is the cause or the effect of good new year's vibes, but it fits perfectly.
For several years now CityBeat has published a Renewal Guide in the first issue of January to feature body/mind/ spirit organizations and practitioners, and we've also featured a cover story on related topics. Last year Donna Covrett profiled local food-oriented organizations bringing people together in restaurant settings, and the year before Christopher Kemp profiled pilates guru Stacy Sims.
This week, Donna covers a handful of individuals who are stepping outside of their normal routines to build community one person at a time (see "Knitting Us Together" on page 18). Their stories are inspiring, particularly the community service ideals espoused by the high-school students from Clark Montessori.
Despite all the attention given to bureaucracies like City Hall and large corporations, as Donna points out, real change in our community often comes from grassroots efforts that start with one or two people and an idea.
Reading about the work being done by the people Donna profiles — as well as looking back to similarly inspiring people that CityBeat covered throughout 2004 — gives me hope that perhaps Cincinnati isn't stuck in neutral as many think. Maybe below the budget deficits and polarized political posturing this city is slowly moving forward.
I've said in this space previously that the recent repeal of Article 12 is a crucial sign that Cincinnatians can work together to build stronger relationships even in the face of determined and well-financed foes of progress. The folks behind the repeal campaign, Citizens to Restore Fairness, rightly were named CityBeat's Persons of the Year 11 months ago for their grassroots door-to-door efforts to educate all of us on the issues of fairness and discrimination; their subsequent victory at the polls was proof that people with ideas can still change the world.
The people profiled in this week's cover story are changing the world in their own ways, and we're excited to tell you about them. I've always envisioned CityBeat as a vessel for change in Cincinnati, and by spreading the word about such people I'd like to think we're contributing to renewing and growing our community as well.
It's good to know these people are helping make Cincinnati a better place to live. And at this time of year, isn't it possible to see yourself becoming one of them?
Now that's something to get you out of bed and down to the office on the Monday after New Year's Day.