On Christmas Eve, a famous movie character passed away with a big bang at the age of 80.
What a symbolic way to mark the end of something so timeworn, to make room for a new beginning.
The passing of Cheetah, the chimpanzee sidekick in the original Tarzan movies of the early 1930s, made headlines around the world, including in some of the most notable print media. After all, it was a big feat for any being to share the soundstage with the legendary Olympic swimming star Johnny Weissmuller, who played the vine-swinging, loin-cloth wearing hero, and his love, Jane, played by the sultry screen siren Maureen O’ Sullivan. They were hit movies of Hollywood’s Golden Age.
Cheetah was a major star. His character was as popular as Rin Tin Tin from the “Thin Man” movies; Cheetah made people laugh. During his final years at the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary in Florida, he was described by the sanctuary officials as “so tuned in to human feelings”. He even threw faeces when he did not like what was going on.
But a few days after his reported death, there were more headlines about Cheetah. Questions were raised about the authenticity of the passing chimp. Could he be a business-boosting imposter? That Cheetah could not have lived this long, some argued; he was already a mature chimp when he appeared in the movies. Unfortunately the sanctuary chose to cremate Cheetah, and all of the records relating to him were burned in a fire in 1995.
But for many, the question surrounding the authenticity of the chimp do not matter. Real or not real, Cheetah was relevant because he was part of the legend. Legend is always a fuzzy combination of tangible effects and figments of the imagination
As people around the world are celebrating the end of a year and welcoming a new and hopefully better one, some contrarians are raising questions why.
Why do we need to believe that a certain day is a milestone in our lives and as such, so special? Why do we need a new year to make our resolutions, when we have the chance to do so at every moment of our existence? Why are people emptying their purses to buy presents to honour a day that did not become the universal or standard start of the civil year in the Western culture, and around the world, until as recently as 1751? Why do many people feel the need to have a party to attend on the day before the New Year? Why do many girls and boys feel such a major let down if they do not have a date on that day?
In an age where more and more people are pondering the logical validity of the notion of God and divine beings, man is obviously trying to rid himself of the myth baggage. Many describe God and gods as a manmade construct, and the recognition of such would make man a better species. In his song “Imagine”, John Lennon asked us to imagine “no heaven…/no hell…/no religion…/living life in peace….”
But are we fully and totally creatures of reason? Is science and logic enough to make man complete?
Maybe. But can we be happy in that world? Can we explain bliss, joy, passion, pain and love in absolute scientific terms? Do we need to explain them at all?
Poetry, art, legends, myths, religion may be illogical, but they make our lives richer and fuller.
As senseless as some may describe it, the New Year celebration is needed. To many, the occasion represents another chance to make it right; of hope; and of a reassuring notion that things come to an end, to mark a new and better beginning. And hope springs eternal.
Lennon, psychologists, scientists and philosophers are welcome to imagine a world where sunrise and sunset are just matter-of-fact phenomena; lush green trees and grass are just an artificial nomenclature of colourless things; the Eiffel Tower is just an assembly of steel. Such a world would know no joy.
So please feel normal if you want to celebrate the New Year. There is no right or wrong, it’s only human. Just do not celebrate it too hard, and remember that resolutions are meant to be followed through.
Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.
Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.
Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.
Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.
Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out thy mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.
Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.
Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.
Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.
(Alfred Lord Tennyson—1850)