For those of us who consciously lived through December 31, 1999, there will never be another New Year’s Eve like it.
New Year’s Eve is traditionally a time for people to reflect on the major events of the previous 12 months. Some of these are highly personal. Others were shared by the entire country.
Some of these remembrances inevitably bring pleasure. Others bring pain.
But at the heart of every New Year’s Eve celebration is the fantasy that you get to start fresh in a matter of hours. And with that fantasy comes hope–that, this time, you can put your sorrows and failures behind you.
New Year’s Eve, 1999, was marked far more by apprehension and fear than joy.
- Fear of Y2K–that our highly computerized, globally-interconnected world would crash when the “19” at the start of every year was replaced with a “20”.
- Fear of Armageddon–that Jesus would return at any moment to destroy mankind (except for those 144,000 righteous souls He deemed worthy of salvation).
- Fear of the Millennium itself–of ending not simply another decade and century but an entire thousand-year period of history, and thus losing our historical ties to the familiar highlights of our own (and America’s) past.
And, especially where Y2K was concerned, the TV commentators were quick to stoke our anxieties.
For those of us living in California on December 31, 1999, the day began with news reports of celebrations of the New Year in such distant countries as Australia and New Zealand.
“So far,” each of these reports ended, “there have been no reports of Y2K-related outages.”
But the underlying message was clear: Stay tuned–it could still happen. And this message kept blaring for the rest of the day and into the evening.
At 9 p.m. California time, I turned off a VCR and turned on a local news station to watch celebrations–or chaos–unfold in New York City.
If the lights went off in New York at midnight Eastern time, then, in three more hours, the same would happen in California.
When I saw lights glittering in Times Square, I felt reasonably certain that Y2K would probably be a dud.
Long before New Year’s Eve, TV newscasters had repeatedly warned that, when midnight struck on January 1, 2000, the three places you did not want to be were:
- In an airplane.
- In an elevator
- In a hospital.
Countless numbers of people in America and around the world stocked up on food, water, batteries and other essentials for dealing with an emergency.
Along San Francisco’s Powell Street–a major center of tourism and commerce–store owners boarded up their doors and windows as New Year’s Eve approached. Many closed earlier than usual that day.
Merchants and police feared widespread rioting and violence. If Y2K didn’t set it off, then fears of a heaven-sent Apocalypse might.
Fortunately, these fears proved groundless.
Three people I know decided to throw an “End of the World” party. They didn’t believe the world was coming to an end. But they decided to throw an “absolute last blast” party as though it were.
Among the items they stockpiled for this occasion:
- Country pork spareribs
- Apple cidar
- Black olives
- Fresh cranberries
- Chocolate chip ice cream
- Gin and tonic water
- Root beer
- Smoked cheese
- Pumpkin cream mousse cake
- Chocolate cake
It was definitely an unforgettable night.
New Year’s Eve 1999 is now 12 years distant. But there may be some lessons to be learned from it:
Each year is a journey unto itself–filled with countless joys and sorrows. Many of these joys can’t be predicted. And many of these tragedies can’t be prevented.
Learn to tell real dangers from imaginary ones. Computers are real–and sometimes they crash. Men who died 2,000 years ago do not leap out of graveyards, no matter what their disciples predict.
Don’t expect any particular year to usher in the Apocylapse. In any given year there will be wars, famines, earthquakes, riots, floods and a host of other disasters. These have always been with us–and always will be. As Abraham Lincoln once said: “The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.”
Don’t expect some Great Leader to lead you to success. As Gaius Cassius says in William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”: “Men at some time are masters of their fate. The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves that we are underlings.”
Don’t expect any particular year or event to usher in your happiness. To again quote Lincoln: “Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”
If your life seems to make no sense to you, consider this: The philosopher Soren Kierkegaard once noted: “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.”