The Old Year

A nameless town. A tiny place you’ve never heard of. One without a stoplight. It’s a place so small that when you dial a wrong number they supply you with the correct one. The 2020 Christmas decorations on mainstreet have started to come down today.

Once upon a time, the beautification committee would have kept decorations up until New Year’s, but it’s been a weird year. The chairwoman decided it was time to take decorations down. The New Year needs a fresh start, she said. People are ready to forget the trappings of 2020 and remember that life goes on.

So the garland on local businesses was first to go. Then the pinery on lampposts. The snowflake decals in shop windows came down too.

Meanwhile, across town, there is an old man sitting in his yard in a wheelchair. He wears a surgical mask and watches grandkids play with a Nerf football. He’s hardly moving after his recent stroke, which nearly killed him weeks before Christmas. But they tell me this man is immeasurably determined, and even cheerful.

His granddaughter sits beside him, holding his limp hand. He has been through a lot, but there is no sadness in his mumbled responses, only reassurance to those he loves. His quivering lips seem to say, “Please don’t cry for me, life goes on, and so will I.”

Life does indeed go on. Just like it’s doing a few houses over, where a young man who we’ll call Billy is back home. Billy is visiting his mom for the holidays.

Billy has been sober for two years now. Although most remember him from his former days spent on a local barstool, playing the fool. But that’s in the past now. He’s dry, and constantly recovering. This makes his mama proud.

His mother, the former Sunday school teacher. The woman who taught the town’s children to memorize the Ten Commandments and recite the 23rd Psalm. A woman so devout that she once repented for using the 10-items-or-less checkout lane to purchase one dozen eggs.

Billy’s drinking problem made her the subject of ridicule. In some circles, she was a laughingstock. But in a way, Billy’s issues also reintroduced her to beliefs she truly held dear. He retaught her things like reconciliation, non-judgement, and love without a contract. Concepts she had lost sight of once. And these virtues worked. They saved Billy.

Today when she looks at her son there is no criticism, no recollection of grievances. Instead she thinks to herself how grateful she is that life perpetually, mercifully, moves onward.

On the north side of the city, a 76-year-old man on his porch is thinking the pretty much the same thing. He still has crud in his chest from a lingering coronavirus bout. But he’s doing better now.

Thankfully, his fight with the virus was the least of his life’s troubles. This is a man who once fought in Vietnam, who returned home in shreds. Who slept outside in his own backyard for one year because sleeping indoors made his nightmares worse. He was only a teenager when he joined Uncle Sam’s cause. He saw things over there he will never unsee.

And you ought to hear him tell the story of his redemption.

It happened in the 1980s. He was driving home one day from doing shiftwork at the mill. He stopped at a crosswalk near the elementary school. There, he saw dozens of children climbing from yellow schoolbuses. They were laughing and smiling.

This simple scene touched him so deeply that he cried behind the wheel of his idling truck until cars started honking. It was their innocence. That’s what did it. When he saw children boarding those buses he realized that, in his own words, “Life just keeps going.”

I think I’m noticing a trend here.

Ironically, one of those same yellow buses would’ve been driven by a lady who I’ll call Marilyn. Everyone knows Marilyn. She was a woman who always wore a mop of prematurely gray hair atop her head and smelled like Chanel No. 5 and Camels. She was feisty. Her house was rundown, with dirt bikes in the yard. She raised four boys in that house.

When she hit her late 40s her husband traded her in for a 23-year-old waitress. Marilyn almost didn’t make it after that. Her life was over, she thought. Totally over. Insurmountably over. Except it wasn’t.

“How’d you survive?” someone once asked an older Marilyn.

The elderly woman, with a voice full of good humor, said something along these lines: “Oh, sweetie, the world don’t stop for nobody, no matter who you are.”

She’s a real success story. And today she stands on a ladder, removing lamp post garland alongside other members of the beautification committee.

Because in a few days 2020 will be gone. The last 12 months will be purely memory. Our entire world will reach that singular moment when two calendar years collide. “The Year That Was” will bump into “The Year That Is.” The clock will ding midnight, and we will never date personal checks the same way again.

If you stand in any Smalltown, USA, on New Year’s Eve night, you’ll hear the same distant sounds in the far-off. You won’t hear people crying. They won’t be complaining, either. You’ll hear clanging pots and pans, rifle cracks, applause, hollering, cheering, and lots of singing. There will be kisses among lovers. Hugs among family. Children’s foreheads will be smeared with Granny’s lipstick.

The remnants of yesterday will vanish. And this world will be reminded of something wonderful, something I keep forgetting. I forget that this New Year is not merely the closing of an old year. But it is a chance for me to embrace a brand new one.

Because life, you see, really does go on.


  1. Sharon Brock - December 28, 2020 6:17 am

    Happy New Year, Sean. I wish you and Jamie all the best and thanks for keeping me sane during a rather lousy year.

  2. Sandi. - December 28, 2020 6:30 am

    2021 is going to be a wonderful year, Sean. Wait and see. As the clock strikes 12:01 A.M. on January 1, 2021, hindsight truly will be 2020.

  3. Larry & Martha Jane Wall - December 28, 2020 6:47 am

    Yes, life will go on, regardless of the CoVid19 virus going into the new year with us. But, also, Hope does spring eternal and that hope is for the vaccine to be successful and allow the country to open back up. And from GA, have a great new year at the Dietrich home. God Bless you.

  4. Jennifer Whisenant - December 28, 2020 7:49 am

    Spending the night with my husband. Tomorrow he will have an ECHO to look at his heart. Soon he will have heart surgery. People come and go all night taking blood and checking vitals apologizing each time. I am amazed at their dedication and politeness! Life does go on. Ever changing. I have become amazed at my ability to face the tough times. Stronger and braver and filled with faith in a God that has come to reside in me. Happy New Year!

  5. Margaret E Odell - December 28, 2020 10:07 am

    Amen, Sean, and a blessed New Year to you and Jaime!!!

  6. Bob Brenner - December 28, 2020 11:29 am

    Amen to life going on! Hello 2021, Happy New Year Sean. ❤️🥳

  7. Karen - December 28, 2020 11:51 am

    I long for the day when my lipstick is smeared on my grandchildren’s foreheads again. We didn’t join them for any holidays this year, because of COVID. We did have a FaceTime call on Christmas Day.
    Our church joined inside cars in a parking lot for a candlelight service and a drive-thru communion. We each held candles in our car snd listed to our pastor tell the Christmas story. We all sang Silent Night.
    I have great hope for the future. The vaccine should begin to make a difference, and people are starting to realize that a mask does protect you, I think.
    We need to remember those who are in need now. There are so many who have lost jobs, homes, and businesses. Some have lost dear ones, and their hearts are broken.
    If we can give to a food bank, it makes a real difference.
    Mostly, we need to be kind, and truly love one another.
    Happy New Year, and thank you for your writing each day.

  8. Bette Loyd - December 28, 2020 12:21 pm

    Happy New Year to you and your family! Every morning I count on your message to help me begin the day with hope and a positive attitude and you never disappoint! Tomorrow I begin chemo which is the thing I’ve feared most since my diagnosis 3 months ago. But my Christmas present to myself was to purchase all of your books to read on my IPad during my treatments. I haven’t allowed myself to even peek at them yet, which has been incredibly difficult! So thanks for giving an old lady something to look forward to in an otherwise very scary situation!

  9. Kate - December 28, 2020 12:59 pm

    Sean, you really are amazing, writing is not easy, yet you come up with something wonderfully extraordinary from the ordinary each day.. I have never been good at being consistent. I am consistent at loving my husband and family and brushing my teeth but that is about it, but now I have added a third thing – reading your articles each morning. Thank you

  10. John - December 28, 2020 1:24 pm

    “Dry and constantly recovering.” ⁴What an inspiring statement of faith! Happy New Year, Sean, to you and Jamie!

  11. Beryl - December 28, 2020 1:50 pm

    Indeed! Live today like it’s your last day.

  12. Sandra Lydahl - December 28, 2020 2:47 pm

    As a new subscriber, I feel truly blessed. I look forward to your daily verse, Sean. Thank you for up-righting this crazy world. We will survive!

  13. Anthony Wiicox. - December 28, 2020 3:27 pm

    Thank you for your positivity, love someone that looks forward, leaving the past behind, May your year 2021 be all that you want it to be.

  14. Dean - December 28, 2020 4:08 pm

    It has been the worst year of my life but I must go on and do the best i can. I am blessed with family and friends.
    Happy New Year to everyone

  15. Linda Moon - December 28, 2020 6:44 pm

    Life. I’m grateful for it. But, God, I hope some things change for the better in 2021, beginning in these four days before it arrives. Someone I know and love survived COVID. His doppelganger friend did not. I read the friend’s obituary just prior to reading “The Old Year”. LIFE itself will go on even though the friend does not….at least not here.

  16. MAM - December 28, 2020 10:10 pm

    As always your uplifting words remind us of the good in our lives! Thanks, Sean, and Happy New Year to you and Jamie and your four-footed family members.

  17. Donna - December 28, 2020 11:18 pm

    Well described! Cheers to a much welcome New Year!

  18. Bill - December 28, 2020 11:22 pm

    Yes, life does go on. I pray that the new year is a good one, better than the last one Hopefully, people will be kinder, less judgmental, and wanting to do good for all.

  19. Rhonda Hooks - December 29, 2020 12:39 am


  20. Nancy M - December 29, 2020 1:43 pm

    Thank you Sean!
    Praying for you, Bette Loyd.

  21. Julie - January 20, 2021 3:29 pm

    Like it or not, life does go on, until God determines The Last Day. Take each one as it comes, and try to make the most of it. Give yourself permission to feel all emotions, good or bad. And faithfully read this column, even if you play “catch up” like me, and read older ones that are still in your inBox!! Sean will save your sanity, I promise.


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