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Jewish World Review Feb. 29, 2000 / 23 Adar I, 5760

Bob Greene

Bob Greene
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What really happened on New Year's eve -- ALL THE GIDDY Welcome-to-2000 merchandise, as you may have noticed, has gone off the shelves of America's stores.

The Y2K Preparedness Packs? Gone -- as dead as the Spanish-American War.

We're almost two full months into the new millennium, the new century, the new year, and it is beginning to dawn on us: Very little has changed.

All the getting ready for 2000 -- and the world is pretty much still the same.

Which may be the best lesson to take out of all the planning and precaution-taking that much of mankind went through during the last few months of 1999. The world waited for the stroke of midnight two months ago -- the world held its breath as it stopped to find out what would happen.

Nothing much did. And now that we're all back to the day-to-day routines of life, now that one February day in 2000 feels quite a bit like the February day before and the February day after -- feels, as a matter of fact, like any February day in 1999 or 1998 or 1987 or 1972 felt -- perhaps the time is right to examine exactly what we were looking for back on New Year's Eve.

Because we were looking for something.

We thought -- at least many of us did -- that the something was going to be something bad. The computers would freeze, the electricity would go off, the water would stop running, the airplanes would lose their way. Some people were frightened, others were merely concerned -- even those who professed not to care were able to jauntily affect a brave whistling-in-the-dark attitude. Even they, by saying they weren't worried, were reacting to what was out there in the wind.

And what was it that was out there? What were we thinking that we were about to encounter?

It was the opposite of the usual New Year's Eve syndrome. Usually, people plan to have the greatest night of the year on New Year's Eve -- they set out to find ultimate fun, ultimate happiness, ultimate good times. They get ready for weeks, months in advance -- they want New Year's Eve to be special.

Which is the reason it seldom is. You can't plan happiness; you can't schedule joy. You can tell yourself that New Year's Eve is going to be wonderful -- but by doing so, you are likely to be disappointed.

The world's attitude this past New Year's Eve was the exact converse of that. The world got ready -- for something bad. For something troubling. For something to go very wrong.

And it didn't.

What was the world trying to do? The same thing, but in reverse, that it tries to do every other New Year's Eve. It was trying to convince itself that it could control things -- something, anything. At least if the clocks stopped at midnight last Dec. 31, we could have the cold comfort of believing that we knew it was coming.

The clocks didn't stop. The water flowed. The lights stayed on. Now here we are, heading toward March, and. . . .

We're still us. The world looks the same as it did before.

The vexing part is that just because the lights kept burning and the clocks kept ticking -- figuratively as well as literally -- that does not mean it will always be so. You can't plan the good times -- you can't guarantee that New Year's Eve will be lovely, no matter how hard you try -- and you also can't plan the bad times. That's what all the Y2K preparations were for: to give us the illusion that if we put bad news on a timetable, then we can control it.

No such luck. When the bad times come, they will arrive when they want to -- not when it is convenient for us.

The best times -- the times that change our lives for the good?

We can plan and scheme and plot, and we can't make those great times come to us. The arrival of the best times is like a watched and silent telephone -- we can have no control over when the best times will ring.

And then one day, we walk into a room, and our eyes catch the eyes of someone we have never seen before, and our lives change for the good forever. Without our planning a single thing.

The bad times, too. Y2K--the bad part of it--when it arrives will arrive when it chooses. It won't wait for a day the world has set aside for it. It doesn't have to.

Life would be easier to live if this weren't so; life would be easier to live if we could know in advance when the best times will be ours, and when the worst times will descend.

Which is the lasting lesson of what happened on the New Year's Eve just past, when nothing really happened:

The world wanted something to transpire on New Year's Eve -- even something bad -- so at least the world could tell itself that on that certain day it knew there was going to be a change it couldn't control.

But it found out that the thing it couldn't control was that there was no change.

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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