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Happy New Year ...

A Commentary By Susan Estrich

Thursday, January 01, 2009

When I was younger, New Year's was a time fraught with frantic uncertainty revolving around the seemingly critical questions of whether I would have a date and-or something to do. Having nothing to do on New Year's Eve and-or no one to do it with seemed a fate worse than death, or close.

For some years, the problems were solved by being married and being invited to a fancy and fashionable party in Washington every year. Now, the problems are solved by not being problems anymore.

In Australia, Paris Hilton is being paid 100,000 Australian dollars by a promoter to host a New Year's Eve party. She spent over 5,000 of those dollars ($3,844 U.S.) in a 40-minute shopping spree in Sydney in advance of her evening duties. "What's wrong with doing a little shopping?" she said, in response to criticism from local charities about spending $100 a minute on herself. "It's New Year's; I need a New Year's dress." Hilton also said she was helping the local economy.

It is hard to believe that Paris Hilton doesn't already have plenty of New Year's dresses, even if part of the draw for her hosting "job" is the promise that partygoers will get to see her in numerous such costumes before the night is over. Why anyone would pay for that is hard to understand.

Hilton's shopping spree pales in comparison to her fee for the night's work. Presumably, she's getting that much money (which could also be given to local charities) either because the promoter is an egomaniacal nutcase or because he can make that much more from those willing to pay a high price to be in Hilton's presence.

My fear is that it's the latter, which is truly pitiful. Was I ever so young and stupid that I would fork over real money to go to a crowded party where the celebrity guest was paid to pretend that she was there because she wanted to be, for the fun of it, with customers pretending to be friends? If I was, it was a very long time ago.

I tell the young people in my life all the time that virtually all the problems they worry about now will be solved if they can just hang in and wait awhile. It's true. Things that seem critically important -- not just having a date, but being liked by kids you don't even like, being invited to parties that aren't even fun or hired for jobs you wouldn't actually enjoy, being taller or thinner or older than you are now -- will turn out, in retrospect, not to matter at all. It's true.

What I don't tell them, what they don't want to hear and probably wouldn't understand, is that the reason none of these things turn out to matter, or matter much, is because of the things that do matter. Denting your father's car, which I struggled with in my teens, was a joke, a nothing, a trifle, compared to losing my father, which I struggled with in my 20s. Worrying about not having friends is a trifle compared to losing your best friend, which I did, or holding your friends' hands as they face cancer or heart disease, which I do these days, all the time.

I wish it didn't take cancer and heart disease to learn these lessons; I wish it didn't take great loss to realize how much we have. I wish I could find a way to tell all the young people in my life not to worry about what they worry about, to enjoy what they have, to trust that the problems that seem so large now will all but disappear, and that someday, forking over hard-earned dollars to be at a party with Paris Hilton will seem like the waste of money that it is.

I wish I could go back and relive my own life without all the lost time and lost tears shed over dates I didn't have and parties I didn't get invited to, and wouldn't remember if I had. I wish I could be young now, when I would know how to enjoy it.

But life, of course, doesn't work that way. You can't teach people by telling them -- some lessons have to be learned the hard way. And once learned, they can only be used in the future, however much we might wish to turn back the clock.

May your new year be filled with good health and love and kindness.

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