JANUARY 2, 2009
(STAR) DE RERUM NATURA By Maria Isabel Garcia - A second after midnight. Things are not likely to change that fast. So why do we still risk fireworks, emotional and chemical, to celebrate the New Year? We are just riding on this planet which is going around the Sun once again, the same way it has been doing so for about 4.5 billion years. I think that most of us do not even realize that the New Year is “new” because we get to go on another ride in this celestial carousel around our Sun. Bah, you say, too scientific. But whether or not you understand or accept, you are on this same ride with the rest of us — the ride we are marking and celebrating every year when midnight of the 31st of December kisses the morning of January 1.

But we do celebrate, as loudly and as lively as we possibly could. We do this as parts of ourselves are weeping and bleeding over our own personal losses and the lost lives from wars, famine and disasters as we see them on the news. We check our finances and know that our families may have to sacrifice even more this year. We realize these are cycles but then we also think that 25 years ago, we only had half our current population. We sense that our children seem to be growing up in a more frightening world, far beyond than our world was from that of our parents’. The planet is heating up, shedding frozen tears the size of mountains and changing the face of the planet we know and love. We have been scrambling to do something to keep her from doing that, even apologized to her in rallies, treaties, curriculum inclusions, even a Nobel Prize for Climate Change warriors but she seems to be inconsolable. She may eventually drown us in her atmospheric rage but for this second that we turn a page in planetary time, we shall blow our colored horns, bang our drums, and fire a pyrotechnic chrysanthemum to the heavens to set the sky aglow and will hex anyone who thinks we should not.

We do this because we are creatures who hope. We need to. Even before all the major religions came to be, our ancestors hoped too, and because they did, we are here. There will be no reason to go on if we do not hope. If we were to believe that all that is in store for the coming year is an endless torrent of pain and sorrow, what would be the point of crossing it?

A part of each of us, regardless of the pain that we have gone through this year and the years before that, does not want to surrender the future to wholesale heartbreak — if not for ourselves, for those whom we love. Nature has armed us with weapons within to help us move on. Inside the human brain, hope takes the shape of the biochemical fireworks celebrated in the frontal lobe. There is inside our heads — a universe within, with a pocket of hope so compelling that the outer sights and sounds we produce during New Year are probably mere expressions of the power of this emotion. And it seems that this pocket is sewed more intricately on the left lobe. Diane Ackerman’s An Alchemy of Mind referred to a study where “resilient, positive people show more mindglow in the left prefrontal cortex and an inhibited amygdala.” I want a T-shirt that has a picture of the brain that shows hope on the “left” frontal lobe and says, “Nothing left but hope.”

According to neurologist Dr. Joven Cuanang, it is that part of the brain that turns on when you sense “ambition, insight and persistence to achieve one’s goal.” It does this with the help of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that the cells in the prefrontal cortex are soaked in when it cradles “uplifting” feelings. The “speed of thought,” which in this case means the speed at which neurotransmitters like dopamine can travel to make a connection, is about 10 milliseconds. I do not know how many connections one needs in order to sustain the midnight fanfare, that tribute to hope. But it seems to me that it is like all the strength and promise of better days, for you and others, somehow converge in those sets of milliseconds. In those powerful moments, you feel that you may not be a phoenix but you can blow those ashes that muddle your view of a new morning as mightily as you could. And you can only move on when you see things clearly.

We do not hope because we are blind. We hope because there is an invisible spark inside each of us that leads us. We hope because we know that if we get it right, even a little bit, things will be better for our children. And down the line, hope will continue, for as long as humans are here, celebrating the kisses of who knows how many more Dec. 31 midnights as they take a ride in this amazing celestial carousel.

Happy New Year to all of you.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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