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The odds of existing

Why celebrating the start of a new, not-so-different year may still be important

<p>Emma Keller is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily.</p>

Emma Keller is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily.

It may seem a little late to talk about New Year’s, but I am still erasing a zero and replacing it with a one at the top of every page I write, so maybe this column is not yet old news. I had a pretty uneventful holiday season, thanks for asking. I spent Dec. 31 with my family. We rented “The Croods” and watched the ball drop in Times Square at midnight. My break has been great, and I love being home, but if I am being honest, when it came to celebrating the New Year, I was not really in the mood.

I was frustrated. I did not understand the need to celebrate the start of a new year that was not bringing anything “new” to me. We are still struggling through the pandemic that I swore would be under control by the fall semester. The state of our country is the same — or maybe even worse if Jan. 6 is any indicator. Our status as full-time online students is the same, and we have lost over a year of the precious four we get to experience college. 

So what has really changed besides the clock and the calendar? What is there to celebrate? 

When I voiced these thoughts out loud to my family, my mom — an attorney running her own private practice that relies on courtrooms remaining open — said something I’ll never forget. “Emma, if we didn’t have hope, I don’t know what we would have, honestly.” 

I have to believe she is right — I have to. Because if she is wrong about this, I am not sure that I can keep putting myself out there and pushing so hard towards a future that I cannot even begin to picture. 

In this moment, I also realized that my family was just as tired of my pout and lack of hope for the new year as I was of mustering completely faith-based positivity. I suppose I have never been one to write down resolutions, make predictions or outline goals, and I have always found it odd to place such great emphasis on Jan. 1. What is it about this day that allows us to separate ourselves from the last year like we have closed a barely finished book — I say “barely” because we tend to rush through the last few pages — and have decided to place it on the shelf for novelty and nostalgia’s sake?

I do not know if I will ever understand — I guess I can be a bit cynical that way. But, I did try to get into the celebrating spirit last year. “New year, new me” is how the saying goes, right? I even placed extra emphasis on the “Happy” in “Happy New Year,” and I sincerely meant it when I said it.

Now, I have no idea where my list of resolutions for 2020 is, and my vision board is busy collecting dust behind my bed. I think a majority of my frustration with celebrating this new year stems from my hesitancy to reopen old wounds that I have convinced myself are healed underneath the band-aids I placed on them last year. But those wounds — those 2020 disappointments — need fresh air to scab over, and a slight risk of infection comes with healing. 

For me, the hardest part of 2020 was not that I had no desire to try or to reach for the things I want — the things I so carefully placed on that discarded vision board. It is that I did not know how to keep trying when I felt helpless, floating in circumstances that were completely out of my control and dictating so much of my existence.

I like to be in control of my life, as I am sure all of us do. I am not spontaneous, and I never quite grasped how to “go with the flow.” So it makes sense that thinking about the amplified uncertainty and unpredictability of our current reality as college students makes my head spin. 

But, I learned something in my free time surfing the internet over break that completely altered my worldview — the odds of any individual existing are one in four quadrillions. Yes, that is four quadrillions with a “Q” — a 10 with 45,000 zeroes behind it. I cannot even begin to imagine how exponentially that number grows if we start to question how likely it is that those reading this column exist in the same place — presuming readers are affiliated with Charlottesville and the University — and at the same moment in time as Taylor Swift. 

I am kidding about the Taylor Swift part, but it is crazy to know that the odds of me — of us — existing as we are, right now, are practically zero. So, what would happen if we all started to think of ourselves as miracles? As unique individuals that are one in four quadrillion-billion-jillions? As people who beat the odds of existing? 

I like to think that something resembling a seed of hope begins to grow and that something as normal to human existence as celebrating the start of a new year feels more worthwhile. We may already be a few weeks into 2021, but I think I understand now — if I refuse to cling to hope, I am disappointing myself long before anything else can. 

So, here we go again with yet another trip around the sun — a trip that I am now expecting to bring new opportunities and possibilities to me. Here’s to hoping that this time, we treat ourselves like astronomically rare, almost impossible miracles who are totally deserving of all the good things life has to offer.


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