Looking backward, looking forward

January — this first month of this newest of our new years — was named long ago for the Roman god Janus, who had the unique ability to look backward and forward at the same time. We might call this distinctive feature at least somewhat “two-faced,” but the meaning is not at all the same as what we know that little split word conveys today. I myself wonder each year as the New Year begins: Would I really like to know what it’s bringing with it for me…?

For this year, I will be looking back at lost time, at what I couldn’t have for myself since the COVID-19 pandemic took over and took away from all of us our power to order things to happen as we would like. I could not make my usual annual visits to see in person my two children, their collective five children, plus — at this writing — my two great-grandsons. Personally, I was fortunate that my daughter and her older son — both of whom live in Illinois — were able to visit me here, in my new Legacy Midtown Park home, and at two different times. 

Showing off some of my favorite places — and theirs — to my Dallas visitors is always a pleasure. For my daughter, a professional horticulturist who has been here many times over the past 40 years that I’ve lived in this city, it’s definitely the Arboretum, where she can consult with peers on how her own work does — or doesn’t — align with theirs. For my grandson, a performing musician and writer making his first truly adult visit to Dallas, the essentials were historic, his “must see” list topped by everything related to the assassination of President Kennedy. And I also had an intense four-day visit from a California cousin who’s taking the lead in preparing a detailed family history (for me, on my father’s side; for her, that of her mother, who was my father’s sister). 

But I have given up (and not just virtually!) the idea of going anywhere myself until this coming October, when that visiting grandson will be getting married! His wife-to-be is a middle-school music teacher; the two met at Vandercook in Chicago, the only college in the country devoted entirely to the training of music teachers, choral directors and band and orchestra leaders. 

Looking backward — some things always seem inevitable, don’t they? When Robert and his brother Ben were in middle school, I sent them my piano — the old but excellent Baldwin Acrosonic I had learned on as a child, but had done so little with for so long that passing it on seemed the right thing to do. Ben couldn’t have cared less, but it was “heaven-sent” for Robert, starting him on his way to a musical career. (Ben, by the way, is now a physical fitness instructor who could probably lift that little piano by himself if he had to…)

So now — I’m “playing Janus,” looking backward and forward, following what today seem inevitable moments — the ones we paid so little attention to until their life importance emerged in far-off futures… I see, and admit with sadness, the many mistakes I made in the past year, and hoping that “morgan zein besser” — all this year’s tomorrows will be better. 

For all of you who read this — I share that wish: May this year be better than last. It’s a good wish to remember — for use again next year, and for all the years to come after that! I end by remembering — and never will forget — the wisely prophetic words of the person from the junior/senior high school our class would begin attending in just a short few more sixth grade days: “We give all of you a blank slate when you enter,” he said, but then added — with a sort of wry laugh — “But you all know what you do with a blank slate: You scribble all over it!” 

And so, I end my first “scribbling” for this new year, with grateful thanks to and for all of you who continue to read it! 

Harriet Gross can be reached at

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