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he first day of the New Year found me out walking my big, bad dog.

It was a good morning for it. It was early and the neighborhood was still asleep but they probably would be for some time. For the first half hour, there wasn’t another soul to be seen which, to be honest, is how I like it. ‘Other people’ sometimes mean ‘other dogs’ out sharing their company and my dog hates that. Deserted and quietly suggestive of a just-missed, post-apocalyptic event, this is when the blocks around our home are most welcoming to the likes of me and mine.

We’d just rounded a corner, the dog and I, stepping over a single blue foil party horn someone had dropped on their way out of a warm house a few hours earlier when I saw the people on the roof. I can’t say for sure if I heard them before I saw them but I don’t think so. They were quiet and there were kind of a lot of them—eight, ten people maybe—and they were clustered tightly together around a fire burning on the flat roof.

There was something reverential about their gathering. Maybe it was their collective quiet or the circle they’d formed around the fire but I walked past them on the street, looking up at them, wondering if I hadn’t found them all together on the roof of this house in the first few hours of 2013 praying about something.

In their baseball caps with their blankets pulled in close around their shoulders, what were they talking about? (And how could that fire possibly be legal? I hadn’t even recognized that the roof on that house could even function as a deck before this very moment; there’s no way that wasn’t a code violation of some sort.)

The quiet on that roof suggested a people focused—and not just on thinking their hangovers away. Maybe this was their huddle, a team meeting of friends and family, a marshaling of thoughts and force in the face of the challenges and work of the next year. These souls had assembled to prepare for what was coming next to each of them by first, and foremost, being together before the New Year had revealed itself to be whatever it will be, shoulder-to-shoulder, around a fire.

When the dog and I made it back, I asked Scott to make a fire not unlike the ones those anti-revelers had encircled. We’d just had a fire the night before but he agreed to build another. It’s burned all day and our family has gathered around it off and on, shoulder-to-shoulder and alone, thinking about what comes next.