The last year has been rounded up. The lists are in. The best and the worst have been marched by tens into their cubbyhole of history.

One year has been duly labeled, assessed, and filed away for safekeeping. Another year has opened up in front of us like a clean appointment calendar.

1981. 1982. In some ways, New Year's Day has been the most American of all the holidays. In the east, the

Chinese name their years, give them a tag of continuity, cycle the past into the present. Here we number them. We have wanted our years fresh, like our starts.

But somehow it doesn't seem the same now. I think there is less belief in the new this year.

We've been a people with enormous enthusiasm for beginnings. The idea of a "new" year--one after the other after the other--fit us. We paid homage to each with our interminable resolutions. Out of some restlessness or energy or discontent, we kept turning the future into our promised land.

Other countries may call us the establishment. But in the core of our own mythology, we have thought of ourselves as the children of the New World. The ones who started from scratch, who chose adventure, risk, change. Over and over again, each generation.

Now, in Paris, the nouvelle cuisine has been declared pass,e. In America, newness itself has become jaded.

Perhaps too many people tried to con us with the label "new" when nothing was new but the label. Like consumers faced with yet another "improved" product, we finally balked.

Last year the fashionable politicians called themselves New Conservatives. To be a new conservative, they told us, was not a contradiction in terms, but a chic philosophical outfit. After a year it looks more like an old philosophy: survival of the fittest.

Last year they coined a "new" economic plan for the age. Today, the Reaganomics of the Eighties looks like the glossy updated Hoovernomics of the Thirties.

Now when I hear the word new, my ears tingle with suspicion. I read a book trumpeting a "new" movement of parents, calling them "The New Traditional Parents." I read an article about the interminable disarmament talks which are renamed "START." It sounds like they are selling toothpaste or hair conditioner.

"New" has become a hype. We can all run through lists of the fresh starts that were false starts. Our new beginnings litter our past like Elizabeth Taylor's marriages.

From within our cynicism has grown a deeper understanding that we are fresh out of "new-ness," beyond beginnings.

The polls, if not the policies, show our view of our world has gradually changed. We know now, even when our leaders think we don't, that there are no limitless resources, no endless frontiers. We know we can no longer use "it" up and move on to something, someplace, new.

There is less willingness to deal with the environment as if there were another New World. We can't spoil the Pacific Coast and go looking for another, pollute this air and breathe another, bomb this civilization and start again.

At our sanest, we know that it is madness to triage Detroit and move its people to Dallas, to close the old cities and start again. The sense that we should value what we have has spread to our family lives. There is, palpably, a diminished desire to adventure, and a search for emotional shelter.

Some of us may mourn this end of our beginnings. But more of us are ready to move on, at least, to a middle. This stage, like middle age, comes with values of its own.

In the middle we may move from yearning to maintaining. We may take fewer risks, but have a greater respect for commitments. We may be better caretakers of ourselves, and each other. Not a bad trade-off.

1982. I don't know what this number will mean to us. Maybe it will resonate like 1066 or 1775 or 1914. Maybe it will pass unobtrusively through to 1983. But with any luck, it will be a Happy Not-Quite-So-New Year.