What if the manner in which you brought in the new year set the tone for the next 365 days? What would that mean for you? A year filled with drunken celebration? A year of sleep? A year of watching television? A year of partying in a club? A year caring for a loved one? The possibilities are endless.
Our new year was certainly brought in with a bang, but like many things in life, not in the way we had envisioned it. The weather forecast predicted a very thick mist and sure enough, around 11pm on December 31st, 2019, the mist rolled in with an eeriness befitting a Stephen King novel.
The Dutch are allowed to purchase a wide range of fireworks and set them off just about anywhere they like, making New year’s eve a bit like a chaotic, war zone where ‘friendly fire’ takes on a different meaning.
Fireworks had been going off all day, the frequency steadily increasing as darkness fell. The thickening mist took on broken hues of red, green, yellow and blue, as if a string of brightly colored party lights had lost their way.
Five minutes before midnight, right before we planned to leave the house, my husband let the dog out in the backyard to do her business. Under normal circumstances, her little white tipped tail works as a beacon in the darkness, allowing you to track her progression through the yard as she seeks out just the right square of grass for her nomadic toilet. But that evening as she went into the backyard, she quickly disappeared from sight, as if the mist had swallowed her whole. The intensity of the fireworks increased with each second that brought us closer to 2020 as my husband whistled for the dog.
When she didn’t respond, he too disappeared into the mist in search of our four-legged family member. That’s when he discovered that the gate, which is always closed, was propped wide open. Our little Beagle, who loves to run free, had chosen to escape at the worst possible moment of the year.
She could have been 10 feet away, but we wouldn’t have seen her. If she was barking or whining, we wouldn’t have heard her among all the vuurpijlen (rockets), ‘gillende keukenmeiden’ (screaming kitchen maids), fonteinen (fountain-effect firecrackers) and rotjes (firecrackers that make a loud bang) and it was unclear if she could hear us.
As the rest of the world started celebrating the onset of 2020, we set out in different directions, calling and whistling and asking every person we came across if they’d seen our dog. As you can imagine, it was a pretty hellish way to bring in the New Year.
As the minutes passed without a trace of our dog, our already low spirits plummeted even lower as everyone else around us celebrated.
In the last five minutes of 2019, we had envisioned a nice stroll to the town center, where we would glance skyward and watch the sky light up through the mist while we toasted each other with a bubbly glass of prosecco, enjoying the merriment and festivity of tradition, while heralding in the new year.
Instead, our hearts were filled with dread, confusion and helplessness.
Isn’t it crazy how much your world can change in the course of a few minutes? But in the age of social media, you never feel completely helpless. I posted a picture of her with a plea for help to a local Facebook group with 8000 members. I couldn’t imagine that anyone would have been online at that hour, but to my surprise, my message was shared over 70 times.
I also called the “dierenambulance” (animal ambulance) to see if anyone had turned her in, and we posted in other apps about our missing dog.
After walking alone through the mist for over an hour, calling until my throat was dry and sore, I finally returned home. My son was waiting with the dog’s blanket and treats spread out by the front door, hoping she would return.
My husband, who had followed a more distant route, also arrived home as dogless as when he’d left.
If devastated had a face, my son was wearing it. I wanted to give him hope without promising the moon; I told him how many people had shared the Facebook post, that people were responding, giving tips, helping. I painted a picture of our dog hunkered down in the brush, scared, but just waiting out the ‘storm’ of fireworks. We should just get some sleep and hope that when the evening turned still, that she would return. He went off to bed with a heavy, but hopeful heart.
Then the phone rang.
“Hello, ” said a friendly woman. “I believe my father found your dog.”
Ends up that her father lived one block away. ONE. BLOCK. AWAY.
My husband hastily pulled back on his coat and went to get her. When he returned with our dog–who appeared to be just as happy and healthy as when she’d disappeared into the mist a few hours ago–our entire energy shifted. Ecstasy. Relief! All is lost to all is found! Sadness to joy. We woke up our son and the three of us sat on the couch, dog on our collective laps, and took a few sips of prosecco. Now we could finally say the words: Happy New Year!
I can’t help but think in terms of life lessons. This was certainly a wake up call. What is the distance between sadness and joy? Between failure and success? Between loss and renewal? In our case, that distance was 70 people who clicked on the share button, one man 50 meters away who opened his door when he heard a dog barking and let her in, one of his daughter’s who searched the internet at 1:30am on New Year’s eve and picked up her phone to call us.
This takes me back to my first two questions when I started this post: What if the manner in which you brought in the new year set the tone for the next 365 days? What would that mean for you?
In my case, it would break down to something like this:
Shit happens. You can’t control everything. What you can do is be proactive, take action, look all around you in the expected and unexpected places, reach out to and communicate with your community and above all, don’t give up. Not too bad of a way to approach things. Okay 2020, I’ll take it.