I sang with bands for years, and it was a blast. Weddings, dances, black-tie galas…we played them all. I could tell you that I did it because I wanted to share my music with others, but that wouldn’t be entirely true. While I got great satisfaction from helping to make special occasions memorable, I also needed the money. Gigs helped pay my rent. They kept me from eating popcorn for dinner every night. They paid my way through law school. They also fed another hobby of mine: people-watching. The view is broader from a bandstand set above the crowd. You can see shifting patterns as people meet and move away from one another. It’s easier to read body language and facial expressions, to piece together stories you can’t quite catch at ground level.

New Year’s Eve is the crown jewel of band jobs. Financially, New Year’s Eve could see me comfortably through January, and as far as the people-watching thing went, it was high season. Nothing magnifies quirks and traits like a five-hour open bar. For some people, the waning hours of the old year presented an opportunity to behave in the most outrageous way possible. (I could never tell if this was an effort to get everything out of the system before midnight provided a clean slate or if it was a giant dare thrown at the new year.) Other folks seemed weary, stooped by the year they’d just endured, tentatively limping toward what they hoped could be a new beginning. For many, New Year’s Eve was a night like any other, only with a party thrown in. Slipping from one year into the next was business as usual, although it was hard to tell if this belief was the product of determination or resignation.

For me, that moment when the old year collides with the new is a little bit magic. For a split second, past and future merge. Irrelevant fragments of the past get stored away while necessary pieces — welcome or not –remain onboard for the next leg of the journey. As the countdown ends, a slightly revised landscape whirls into place, offering a glimpse of possibilities as the new year settles in to stay.

Nobody wants to haul old baggage into a brand new year. but I’m not sure we can move forward without the echoes of where we’ve been. This is one reason I’ve never been much of a New Year’s Eve drinker. I need to show up as clear-eyed as possible for New Year’s Day. I felt that way even when I woke up on January 1sts after band jobs, foggy after four hours of sleep and smelling like cigarettes. I don’t want to miss anything.

Whatever your approach to the new year, I wish you a happy one. When you stand on the cusp of 2023, I hope you look back and know that you were there.