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Give us this day

Facing life in small chunks is more digestible

Happy Sunday to all of you, gentle readers, and let's leave it at that. Forget about our annual New Year's Day psychosis. It's a sham.

There is no such thing as New Year's Day. Today is just another slice of life on planet Earth, a mere link in the continuum that begins with sepia-toned snapshots of childhood. Along the way, we try to hold the center and keep at bay what the poet Charles Wright calls ''the dark undazzle."

There is nothing remotely special about today. It may be the first day in the rest of your life, but then so was yesterday. There's a tad more daylight now, but this is a distinction without a difference given the dreary arctic night that has settled over us.

We'll still put our pants on the same way today, assuming we ever make it out of pajamas. We'll still take out the trash. The bills still reside inside the envelopes with the little windows on them, stacked one on top of the other like tiny Trump Towers. Our waistlines still spread like oil slicks without regard to the calendar.

New Year's Day is an artifice that holds significance largely for corporate bean counters charged with creating a patina of coherence to the financial machinations of the previous months.

Tax consultants and gym instructors start hyperventilating along about now too. But for the rest of us -- humans, groupers, gerbils, potted plants -- it's irrelevant. Worse, it pushes the wrong buttons.

We're supposed to conduct a rigorous spiritual examination of ourselves on or about New Year's Day. We usually fail at this Roto-Rooter of an exercise because it reveals, much to our embarrassment, the emptiness of our inner landscapes.

Profundity is not our strong suit and reflection is overrated. Socrates is alleged to have said, ''The unexamined life is not worth living," but, of course, he got this one seriously wrong. What the sage should have pronounced is this: ''The examined life is fraught with peril." On that score, there's a lot we've done that's best left alone.

Very little is gained from a robust review of 2005. For starters, we can't remember most of it. (Quick: what transpired last March?)

Besides, we're not going to behave appreciably different this year than last. We'll still squeeze the toothpaste tube from the middle, still behave badly in the check-out line. We learn the lessons of life slowly, if at all.

Wisdom is forever elusive. Like baldness, it's supposed to come with the passing years, but that whole construct is a joke. I know plenty of old, dumb, bald people as flummoxed by life today as they were in second grade. (I'm moving briskly into their ranks.)

When, light years ago, each member of my college class was asked to write something short for the 25th reunion book, I wrote that I'd learned two things since graduation: a good run beats a bad stand, and some days are better than others. That was the edge of my envelope on the wisdom front.

But some days really are better than others, and that's why living life by the day rather than the year is an easier way to go. Twelve-step programs grasped this truth ages ago -- One Day at a Time -- and we'd do well to follow their lead.

To consider all of the next 12 months, also known as 2006, is overwhelming. I contract a case of the vapors wondering what the Fed will do with monetary policy. I lose altitude over the prospect of a hard landing versus soft landing in the real estate market. I wring my hands over the prospect of Manny leaving. I wring my hands over the prospect of Manny staying.

The next three months alone are terrifying. The specter of an endless winter of brown snow, frozen pipes and cruel darkness is too much to absorb, which is why those who can fly the coop for points south and those who can't call in sick until mud season.

It's better we face such traumas in digestible chunks commonly called days. We need to stay in them rather than muck about in years.

But this is a tall order. The only creatures I know who live effortlessly in the present are Zen masters and Labrador retrievers.

Don't even think about resolutions. If you do, don't tell us. We don't care about your resolutions. That's more information about you than we care to receive. Besides, you'll cave anyway. We watch you swamp the gyms the first week of January each year only to drop like flies around Valentine's Day. After that, a gym resembles a beach in November.

So spare me. If you want to forgo the breadsticks, knock yourself out, but keep it to yourself.

The Observer counsels you to treat this day as you would any other.

Resist the pressure to invest it with great meaning. Pursue your slovenly habits. Don't beat yourself up about your bad behavior. Others will do that for you. Wait for the scales to fall from your eyes.

If they do, you may stumble onto this truth: The most righteous quality in a person is generosity of spirit -- that bizarre tendency to think of others first. It's as rare as the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, but you know it when you see it. Have a nice day.

Sam Allis's e-mail address is:

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