The Year of the Rabbit.
That's what we'll be in, come early February, according to the Chinese zodiac. Websites devoted to horoscopes say the Rabbit's year is lucky. Chinese tradition, says one site, suggests that this year "is one in which you can catch your breath and calm your nerves."
Think Mercedians could get behind that?
After all we've been through the past three years?
Looking back since the Year of the Boar, which was 2007, the year the recession began, we can rightfully wonder how we managed to make it as far as we have and still enter this New Year with a little hope.
On Wednesday, our publisher, Debbie Kuykendall, acknowledged how tough times have been for our Valley, our county, the newspaper industry and the Sun-Star itself. But reflecting her background as a horsewoman and dog trainer, the wife of a relentlessly self-reliant rancher and daughter of a Marine who fought in bloody island battles in the Pacific War, she remains upbeat.
"Here's to a better year," she told our operating committee.
She wasn't shifting from Cassandra to Pollyanna. Like most Mercedians with deep roots in our loamy soil, she's realistic enough to know we've taken some body blows. But she's also strong enough to know we can get up off the mat.
It's going to take all of us.
More than anytime since the 1930s, we can't afford to let divisions and disputes define us.
From the tea party to MARG (the anti-Wal-Mart folks), from Cardozans to Denhamites, from Raiders fans to Niners fans, from A's to Giants' lovers, from F-150 drivers to bicyclists, from those who like Taylor Swift to those who listen to Merle Haggard ...
You get the picture.
We've got to find common ground this Year of the Rabbit. That ground must serve as a foundation for jobs. Jobs will serve as the best medicine for the recessionary flu that's laid us low the past three years.
It's hard to underestimate the healing power of a job. It gives you money, sure, but it also forces you to focus on a goal, usually one beyond just yourself. A job makes you concentrate. It gives you a reason to get up in the morning.
It's hard to overestimate the destructive power of not having a job. There's a reason societies and cities with low unemployment mostly have low crime rates. If you have a job, you don't have as much time to get in trouble.
So as we move into the Year of the Rabbit, let's capitalize on recent momentum to create jobs. The new Atwater Super Wal-Mart is hiring. UC Merced alums have launched their own solar power venture here. Foster Farms' new wastewater treatment plant will produce jobs and cut pollution.
Downtown Merced is sporting new night life. Vinnie DeAngelo wants to reopen his burned-out restaurant downtown -- and keep the one he's opened on Childs Avenue. Mi Pueblo groceries have become showcases of Latino-Anglo marketing. A worker making the minimum wage can afford to buy a home in Merced.
All these encouraging signs have emerged in recent months. Taken separately, they don't seem like big deals. Taken together, they form an arrow pointing upward.
Nothing good is easy. Layoffs of police and firefighters will hurt those losing their livelihoods and be a bummer for morale countywide.
But we've got to look at our recent achievements as a pattern for success. Some of the push for jobs will come from public agencies, the county's largest employer. But much more will come from the hands and hearts of those in the private sector and individual Mercedians.
Look at three examples of community teamwork just in recent weeks:
Madison Foss collected or made 600 blankets to hand out to needy children over the holidays. One high school girl persuaded dozens of others to help.
Fifth-graders at Le Grand Elementary gave their summer camp money to buy wreaths for America's war dead -- and enough Sun-Star readers stepped up to pay back those kids so that they do get to go to camp.
And the homeless couple who helped save the lives of four young people whose car plunged into Bear Creek have themselves been deluged with money and other donations from our readers to get them out from under the bridge where they were living.
These aren't scenes looked at through rose-colored glasses. They happened here, by us and for us.
We need to look at these and similar examples the same way the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff looked at soldiers who were burned, amputees or both at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio:
"There are those who speak about you who say, 'He lost an arm. He lost a leg. She lost her sight.' I object," the general said in David Finkel's "The Good Soldiers." "You gave your arm. You gave your leg. You gave your sight. As gifts to the nation. That we might live in freedom."
Chinese soothsayers call the Year of the Rabbit a prime time for negotiation. We are at a turning point, a tipping point. To get and keep the jobs we need, we'll have to give and take. Walk in one another's boots. Talk less and listen more.
We need jobs here. We've just witnessed the power of one, or a few, committed people to make lives better. Now all quarter of a million of us in the county have to reach back and tap into the DNA of the generations that brought us here and helped us put down stakes in this place called Mercy.
We can do it. We must do it. And we will do it.
Happy New Year.
Executive Editor Mike Tharp can be reached at (209) 385-2456 or firstname.lastname@example.org.