New Year … New Beginnings

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | Jan 03, 2015

“And suddenly you know: It’s time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings.”
Meister Eckhart

There is just something wonderful about the start of a new year. Whatever good things happened last year, we cannot expect that they will happen again this year. Whatever we would have done differently last year, we actually have the opportunity to do them differently this year. With every new year comes the “magic of beginnings.”

I suppose that is why Plato said, “The beginning is the most important part of the work.” Take a look at a baby or a sequoia tree seedling or even the first yard of concrete in the foundation for a skyscraper. These beginnings may seem insignificant, but everything has to start somewhere.

Lauren Oliver understood this when she observed, “Most things, even the greatest moments on earth, have their beginnings in something small. An earthquake that shatters a city might begin with a tremor, a tremble, a breath. Music begins with a vibration.” 

Even erasers had a beginning. In 1770, an American friend gave renowned English scientist Joseph Priestly a ball made out of a material Priestly had never seen before. He observed that the material, which was sap from a South American tree, could rub away pencil marks from paper, so he called it “rubber.” 

It wasn’t until the discovery of vulcanized rubber in 1839 that rubber erasers became practical, and even then it took another 20 years before a Philadelphian named Hyman Lipman patented the first pencil eraser.

You may think that seeing-eye dogs have been around forever. It was near the end of World War I that a doctor and his dog were walking the grounds of a German military hospital with a soldier who had lost his sight in the war. The doctor stepped inside the hospital for a minute. When he returned, he found that the dog had led the soldier around the grounds on its own.

That inspired the doctor to do some experiments. When the doctor showed that he had successfully trained dogs to lead the blind, the German government lent its support. Later, an American named Dorothy Eustis visited Germany to see the trained dogs and wrote an article about it in The Saturday Evening Post. In 1929, the first school for seeing-eye dogs was set up in the United States. 

Did you know why handkerchiefs are square? Among her many eccentricities, Marie Antoinette hated the fact that handkerchiefs came in so many sizes and shapes. She decided that she liked the square ones the best, and, in 1785, she had her husband, Louis XVI, issue a law that henceforth, “the length of handkerchiefs shall equal their width, throughout my entire kingdom.” Non-square handkerchiefs have been hard to find ever since. 

There even was the very first “Most Valuable Player” award in baseball. According to Frank Donovan, the award was started as a promotional effort to publicize the now-forgotten car called the “Chalmers.” Evidently Hugh Chalmers announced in 1910 that he would give a car to the champion batters of each league. He was thrilled when a Detroiter, Ty Cobb, won the American League championship. But his elation turned to fury when Cobb promptly sold his prize.

So as this new year begins, it would serve us well to realize that everything had to start somewhere, even if it was erasers, seeing-eye dogs, square handkerchiefs or the MVP award. We may not always recognize the significance of a new beginning, but within it may be the seeds of that which could change the world forever. 

I am still amazed that airplanes can fly and that cameras do not need film, and that computers can connect us instantly with people around the world. I wonder what beginning magic there might be in this new year.

As Eugene F. Ware said, “All glory comes from daring to begin.” 

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of  
University of Valley Forge, Phoenixville, Pa. 
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