A number of years ago, my husband and I traveled to Edinburgh with a couple of dear friends to celebrate New Year’s, which there is called Hogmanay.
The trip changed my life.
We had little idea what to expect from Hogmanay. Some we’d talked to compared it to Times Square. Others told us about some of the Scottish traditions surrounding the holiday, such as how the hair color of the first person to cross your door can be an auspicious sign. All, though, said Edinburgh was the place to be if you wanted to have fun.
And it was fun. Up to a point.
At midnight, we watched fireworks explode over Edinburgh Castle and sang Auld Lang Syne with 300,000 other revelers along the Royal Mile. Then we linked arms and headed off into the crowds. We had a bus to catch to get back to our hotel.
And so, apparently, did the other 300,000 people. We made our way toward The Mound, unaware that two other streets full of people were all leading to the same intersection. The crowd grew thicker and thicker around us until soon we weren’t able to move at all.
Like ocean waves, we moved wherever the force of people pressed us. I remember standing on my tiptoes, my face lifted high, searching for air. I could feel someone’s knee in my back. Beside me on one side stood my husband, on the other side was a drunk man whose eyes looked glazed over. My arm extended over that man’s shoulder, my fingers clasping my friend’s hand. I couldn’t see her or her husband, and I was desperate not to lose them in the crowd. Now and again, they passed those who’d been injured over our heads. And with every wave of pressure that rippled from the outer edges through to the center where we stood, the crowd gave a collective groan.
I remember screaming, and my husband telling me to save my air.
I remember a short woman standing in front of me, short enough I had to look down at her. She must have had little air there. In my memory there’s space between her and myself, a good foot or so of clearance, but that wouldn’t have been possible. Her hair was light brown and curly. She had a kind face, and she told me again and again, “It’s going to be OK.”
Some members of my family think she was an angel.
Despite her calm words and my husband beside me, I was afraid. More afraid than I’d ever been in my life. I stood on my tiptoes, with my face toward the winter sky and eyes trained on the little chimney tops, and I prayed the only words I could string together: Jesus, please. Over and over.
Then an amazing and unexpected thing happened. Staring at those chimneys, all of the fear drained away and I felt the most incredible sense of peace. My mind cleared, and I thought, “I’ve had a really great life. If I die in this, it’s OK.”
It was an incredible moment. But it didn’t last. The crowd pressed in and the fear returned and we again fought for air and escape.
Finally, after what seemed like forever, the current pushed hard enough to push though the crowd, and we were spit out right into a police blockade where the injured people were receiving treatment. My husband hugged me and we cried.
Happy New Year, we said. It’s good to be alive.
Every New Year’s I think of that night, and that sentiment.
After Hogmanay, I experienced a season of panic attacks, and a newfound appreciation for life. I dug up the list of Things to Do Before I Die that I’d created in high school and I set to task getting things crossed off. On that list: be a published author.
Had we not taken the trip and been caught in that crowd, would I have followed my writing dreams? Maybe. But more than likely, I would have continued in the same pattern of procrastination I’d followed for years, always putting aside writing for practical things.
That trip taught me so many things bout life and death, about what is seen and what is unseen, about this world and my place in it. Each New Years when I think of that night and that crowd, I’m reminded that time is short, and there are few things as satisfying as moving toward your dreams.
Happy New Year, friends. May this be the year you follow your dreams.