Good morning, it's Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020, the last day in a difficult and dangerous year. Tonight, we raise our glasses to toast the arrival of a new one. I hope you will be protected from this remorseless virus and connected with loves ones electronically or with the family members and friends in your pandemic "pod." It's not a year for typical revelry. Hopefully, New Year's Eve 2021 will be a different story.
My brother Jackson Cannon, an acclaimed Boston mixologist and bar owner, lost his business to the coronavirus in 2020. My brother-in-law John Gallagher, a South Carolina cardiologist, lost his life. Other families have suffered even more.
Shall old acquaintances be forgot? Not this evening. "We'll take a cup of kindness yet" -- that is to say, we'll lift a glass to their memories this evening, simultaneously drowning our sorrows and fueling our hopes for their souls and our future.
Our first sips in life, as babies, are usually mother's milk. As we grow into toddlers, we find refreshment in a cool glass of water. In "The Human Comedy," novelist William Saroyan describes the joyful gulping sounds made by 6-year-old Ulysses Macauley "when water is still the best drink in the world." Soon, however, most of us want a more complex beverage to quench our thirst.
It was ever thus: Jesus turns water into wine, not the other way around. The apostle Paul, in one of his letters to Timothy, makes a tepid case for the medicinal superiority of wine over H2O: "No longer drink only water, but take a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments."
Some six centuries earlier, Greek poet Alcaeus had written, "Wine, dear boy, and truth." Unfortunately, that fragment is all that is left of his thoughts on the matter. But a similar sentiment made its way into the consciousness of ancient Rome via the Latin expression "In vino, veritas."
At this country's founding, Benjamin Franklin had fun with these ideas. A man of science, Franklin held an appreciation for the natural processes that allowed grapes to be made into such a wonderful accompaniment to a meal. As a wine lover, however, he mused about the possibility of divine purpose in the perfect table wine. In 1779, he penned a waggish letter to Andre Morellet, a Jesuit philosopher and friend whom he addresses as Abbé Morellet (and which he signs Abbé Franklin). Writing in French, Franklin invokes the ancients:
"In vino veritas, says the wise man -- Truth is in wine. Before the days of Noah, then, men, having nothing but water to drink, could not discover the truth. Thus they went astray, became abominably wicked, and were justly exterminated by water, which they loved to drink. ...
"We hear of the conversion of water into wine at the marriage in Cana as of a miracle," Franklin continued. "But this conversion is, through the goodness of God, made every day before our eyes. Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards; there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy. The miracle in question was only performed to hasten the operation, under circumstances of present necessity, which required it."
A more secular, and pithier, explication of the supposed superiority of wine over water comes from W.C. Fields in "My Little Chickadee," a 1940 film Fields and Mae West wrote and starred in. "Once, in the wilds of Afghanistan," Fields character intones, "I lost my corkscrew, and we were forced to live on nothing but food and water for days."
On New Year's Eve, the preferred wine has bubbles in it. Millions of Americans will have champagne or its derivatives in their glasses when the ball drops in Times Square tonight, sans crowds. No less a statesman than Winston Churchill would approve. Upon arriving in New York for a visit in 1931, Churchill remarked, "First things first. Get the champagne."
In 1946, after World War II ended, he wrote a letter of gratitude to Madame Odette Pol-Roger, the vintner and seller of his favorite bubbly. "I could not live without Champagne," Churchill wrote. "In victory I deserve it. In defeat I need it.'
Although I like champagne (and other wine, and beer) as much as the next man, ringing in 2021 will entail consuming a wee dram of something more potent: Irish whisky, Scotch, or perhaps a nice Kentucky bourbon -- I haven't yet decided. I'm not alone in appreciating the soothing quality of such spirits. In James Joyce's novel "The Dubliners," several friends are discussing the infallibility of the pope when one of them notices that the bottle is emptying and there might not be enough for everyone to have a second round. A character named Mr. Fogarty begins apportioning the remainder. "The light music of whisky falling into glasses made an agreeable interlude," wrote Joyce.
After this hellish year, we all could use an agreeable interlude. So, Happy New Year, everyone. Take a cup of kindness -- and tomorrow put your mask back on. Let's drink wisely and live safely and try to get through this together.
Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.