Changes and fearless optimism - Jason Smith

I tend to be a bit reflective around this time of year. As I suspect many of us do, I think about the changes of the previous 12 months -- both good and bad -- and ponder what the coming year will bring.

Normally, I'm very resistant to the idea of change, and I like knowing what to expect from one day to the next. A new year, on the other hand, is all about change, and it's up to me to adapt to it.

I've faced a number of changes in my life within the last year. One change, in particular, has been on my mind relentlessly during the holiday season.

Just a few days after 2009 began, my uncle passed away after a battle with cancer. Since I associated him, in my mind, with the holiday season, I've thought a lot in recent weeks about how different Thanksgiving and Christmas will be from now on, without him here.

A few weeks ago, another change entered my life when my cousin -- that same uncle's daughter -- became a grandmother.

On one hand, I can't help being filled with a sense of shock, considering I grew up just a few years behind my cousin. On the other, I'm saddened by the knowledge her grandchildren will never know their great-grandfather.

I thought about my uncle on Christmas Day, as I watched my two older nephews playing with their presents. Being an uncle is a role I cherish all the time, but probably more so during the holidays.

I watched as one nephew, age 4, ran around his living room proudly, donning his new "Toy Story"-themed costume. Moments later, his 2 1/2-year-old brother ran up to me with a toy sword in his hand, saying, "Who goes there?" as if he was on a pirate ship.

All the while, their six-month-old brother bounced in his stroller, seemingly wanting to join them.

They're children, filled with fearless optimism.

As I watched them, I thought back to numerous Christmas Days when I would play with my brother and my cousin, when they would let me. I realized all over again that those days are over for me.

Life has changed a lot since then. But, I believe it has changed in some wonderful ways.

I used to merely watch as my brother and my cousin acted up, hoping neither they nor I would get into trouble. Now, I have the luxury of getting my nephews riled up for my sister to deal with. After all, that's one of the beauties of being an uncle.

On a more serious note, I now have the chance to watch my nephews grow into young men. They're filled with possibilities, and dreams which have yet to be awakened within them, and I have the chance to pour my life into theirs, to help them make those dreams a reality.

All of this is made possible, by the fact that life changes.

I don't know what the coming year will bring for me, or for my nephews, or for my cousin's new grandchild. All I do know is, I want to approach 2010 with the fearless optimism of a child, so that when changes come, I will not only adapt, but thrive.

Jason A. Smith covers crime and courts for the Henry Daily Herald. He can be reached via e-mail at jsmith@henryherald.com.