WE THOUGHT about titling this piece "Reflections on the Millennium: First of a Six-Part Series" and then filling the ensuing columns with baseball statistics, excerpts from the Law of the Sea Treaty and fruitcake recipes. This would have allowed us to take a week off secure in the knowledge that no one would, by this date, actually be up to reading any more such articles, although a few might still praise their insightfulness (fully intending to get to them sometime in the next thousand years).
Even in this portentous holiday season, though, it seems better just to stick with the traditional salutation of the day and the endorsement of modest hopes and realistic resolutions that might possibly be kept for as long as 12 months. Let the centuries take care of themselves. For this day in particular, it will be enough that these words make it onto paper and into your home, a home where the furnace is running and breakfast is not surplus Army rations.
By the time this is published, of course, we'll all have a better idea of the extent of any computer catastrophes here or abroad. But well before the millennial turn, the vague threat of something or other occurring had brought a slightly subdued air to the season: A lot of hotels weren't getting takers for the New Year's suites, on which they'd expected to make a killing; many of the more extravagant, high-priced festivities planned for here and elsewhere have been canceled or scaled down; and the price of lobster, the Wall Street Journal reported at midweek, is off.
Apparently even a hint of doubt about the elaborate network that sustains many millions of us in unprecedented comfort and luxury has tended to bring people's thoughts quickly back to the basics, which are, for most people, approximately what they were in the year 1000: shelter, warmth, food and community. A certain amount of predictability in our relations, mutual respect, self-restraint, avoidance of excess and ostentation, a feel for doing the right and appropriate thing--these have also been welcome presences over the centuries, essentials of happiness. None of them seems any easier to come by in this time of expanding wealth and freedom than they were when necessity ruled--indeed, they may be more difficult. That's why we'll stick with the incremental approach, even as the big zeroes roll over: Happy New Year, 00 and counting, one at a time.