As is traditional at this time of year, the air is stirred by a gentle ringing of bells. But it is not the bells on a sleigh.
The Year, now ancient, her mind increasingly filled with holes, is ringing the bells by her bed summoning the Nurse. She doesn’t want anything except some company in her final days, and perhaps some reassurance.
She asks the question that she has forgotten that she has already asked many times before.
‘Was I kind?’
‘You were neither kind nor unkind’ says the Nurse gently, stroking her hand.
‘Will the people remember me? I would like to be remembered.’
‘Oh yes’, says the nurse, ‘You will certainly be remembered. You were the year when a great global recession lingered; you were the year when nations recognised that they were cooking the planet but failed to agree how to turn the heat down. You were the year when war, famine, weird weather and ignorance dominated global business. You marked the end of the first decade of the twenty first century. You were indeed an important and most memorable year.’
‘But I do not sound kind’, says the Year weakly turning her face away from the nurse, silent tears falling.
‘It’s not your fault dear old Year. It’s the people.’
‘What about the animals? Was I kind to the animals? I like the animals.’
‘Well’, the nurse pauses, and takes a deep breath, ‘Your passage saw a growing awareness by the people of animals as unique, valued, often sentient beings… as intelligences unlike their own, but still to be respected and cherished.’
The Nurse gently combs the grey tresses of the rapidly aging Year and smiles sweetly into her old rheumy eyes. He does not vocalise his own thoughts that, despite this awareness in some parts, cruelty continued to abound and people were more distracted than ever by their own immediate concerns. Nor does he mention that as conditions on the planet get more difficult, so he anticipates that the people will focus more and more on themselves and the animals will be increasingly forgotten.
But the Year has been reassured. ‘That’s good’, she gently sighs and then suddenly dozes. The Nurse tiptoes away until he will be summoned again to answer similar questions.
Soon it will be time to gently apply the medical sickle and the Year will pass.
Soon the jingling bells will be silent.
Soon, the Nurse will attend the urgent cries of the Baby, when little Twenty Ten arrives; a new year, even a new decade, full of promise and full of hope for all the denizens of the stressed planet.
The nurse knows that 2010 will keep him busy. There will be more people alive than at any previous time. Where the systems break down; the resources prove inadequate; or the planet rages in fever, then the merciful sickle will fall and the Nurse will take the fallen away. Where habitats and ecosystems fail he will do the same for the animals. So it is that some people, some populations, and even some whole species and will end before their potential span. But there is yet hope. A whole new year and a new decade to come that could mark a new beginning as novel rays of understanding and appreciation start to shine into the dark recesses of human minds. If humankind works together and applies its ingenious minds, things can still be resolved for the better.
The nurse stares into the void ‘Think people!’ he calls. ‘Think hard; understand and apply yourselves to your urgent responsibilities.’ Otherwise, in twelve short months, the Nurse will again find himself embellishing the truth for another dying year, and for all his kindness, he does not like to lie.