So here we are.
I have not yet read either of the Stephen Sondheim books that dissect his lyrics (Finishing the Hat and Look I Made a Hat), nor am I a savant when it comes to his work, but I don’t think I am creating any great controversy in declaring that his most poignant lyric is probably this one, from A Little Night Music: the last line of the song Send in the Clowns:
Well, maybe next year.
We all find ourselves confronted with those words: maybe next year. They first come from our parents: maybe next year we’ll get a dog, maybe next year you’ll get that train set, maybe next year we’ll go to Disneyland. Later they come from all of the teachers, coaches, and other authority figures in our lives: maybe next year you’ll do better/make the team/win the race.
Eventually, they come from within ourselves, in a thousand inner monologues:
Maybe next year I’ll be taller. Thinner. Prettier. Better. Maybe next year I’ll have that job. Maybe next year my dreams will come true. Maybe next year I’ll find that Someone. Maybe next year I’ll find all of those lovely and perfect things that are just out of reach... all of the things that I ache for and all of the things that will mend me. Maybe. Next year.
You can hear it all over the world tonight, in billions of resolutions that reek of cheap Champagne and stale desperation.
But while the promise of next year may be glossy and beautiful, it’s really just sugar glass: brittle, and so easily broken. That dog, that train set, that trip to Disneyland... they were never really going to happen. Maybe next year was just a way for Mom and Dad to delay the inevitable.
Even the most determined vows made on December 31 tend to dissolve by February, and somewhere deep down, we know this as we hoist a glass to all of the maybes that the coming year will bring.
Maybe next year...
...but probably not. Probably never.
We know this because we got through all of last year. (That is a different Sondheim lyric from a different show, and for a different time.)
As such, I have learned not to give my heart over to Next Year. It is not up to a single striking of the clock, or the turning of a calendar page to make us new and shiny. We can do that any time we like. We just have to do it now, whenever that now may be. And maybe we don’t need to be new and shiny. Maybe we just need to keep on keepin’ on.
This is not a damnation of hope. This is different. This is saying, you know what? The clowns aren’t gonna be sent in. Not this year, not next year, not any year. It’s time to move on.
And yes, I know the song isn’t about clowns. So shut up, Internet.
In spite of the contents of this post and without any hint of sarcasm, I do sincerely hope that you all find joy, peace and prosperity in the coming year.
Screw the clowns.
Yes indeed. Welcome to me.