Thoughts from Dr. Joe: The new year inspires philosophy

I have mixed feelings about the New Year; I’m not very celebratory. The ending of the old and the beginning of the new brings mixed regrets. What once was, is no longer. It’s like sitting with your best girl watching a shadow run across the prairie before losing itself in a Nebraska sunset. The sadness lies in the inability to return and do it again. Happiness is as simple as a glass of chocolate, but it’s often followed by a new sorrow. Poet Percy Shelley wrote, “Our sweetest songs are those of saddest thought.”

This time of year I am overwhelmed by a million thoughts. Maybe it’s the solemnity of the season or, perhaps, according to the poet, Cavafy the Laestrygonians and Cyclops have somehow entered my soul.

But life is happenstance and often gives you what you need. Consequently I found solace in the photography of one of my former students, Ani Gemalmazyan. Her images, still-life portraits of the ending year, capture the simple beauty of the transient nature of life. I looked at her photographs and realized that we’re just passing through. We’re here for a second and then gone the next. I looked deeper into her photography and it became evident that the secret to the inevitability of our collective fate lies in the moment.

I’m no expert but I’ll bet you a buck that contentment lays in the momentary appreciation of what we have. We should probably stop there! Life is best lived simply. You’ll go crazy trying to figure out the meaning of things. The Buddha implies our struggle to find meaning with the world is senseless. Buddhism asserts that life has no inherent meaning; it’s up to us to bring meaning to life. The question we should seek is not one of understanding but what will we leave that makes the world significant.

Ani and I spoke at length and somehow our conversation reverted to a simple poem by Robert Frost, “Nothing Gold Can Stay.” Her photographs are reflective of his verse and symbolic of the approaching New Year, “Out with the old and in with the new.”

Frost wrote, “Nature's first green is gold, Her hardest hue to hold. Her early leaf's a flower; But only so an hour. Then leaf subsides to leaf. So Eden sank to grief, So dawn goes down to day. Nothing gold can stay.”

Frost was brilliant. He had a knack of summing up the whole world in a few elegant lines. It’s about beginnings and endings. Gold is a metaphor for youth and beauty. And like the gold of King Midas, the gold in these verses, the joy of youth and beauty can never last. The poem depicts when the promise of perfection subsides. If you've ever seen the golden buds of a birch tree in early spring, or the hues of a sunrise, or even fallen in and out of love, you know that nothing gold can stay. The rosy glow of newness is beautiful but unfortunately fleeting.

Felix culpa! The Latin saying describes how a series of unfortunate events eventually leads to a happier outcome. Although leaves go from gold to flower to green and then wither and die, so do we. Life begins again! However, during this transient process, we fill the void and can appreciate the small miracles that come our way.

I paused a moment, finding respite from the laborious keys of my computer and noticed a beautiful child ordering a hot chocolate from Angel, a barista at Starbucks.

“Do you want whipped cream?” Angel inquired.

“Yes please,” the child replied.

Angel handed the girl a hot chocolate and the child’s face exploded in delight. Maybe it was time I heed my own philosophy. Walt Whitman says, “Why, who makes much of a miracle? As to me I know of nothing else but miracles...”

Happy New Year!


JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a retired professor of education and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at Visit his website at

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