“So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye.
Adieu, adieu, to you, and you, and you.“
And especially to you, 2020. You done us wrong, but you’re almost gone. I’m usually not particularly moved by calendar-driven events like birthdays and new year celebrations. I recognize and acknowledge humanity’s need to wrap things up in a contextually significant package and put a nice bow on it. Even though it is an artificial construct, and is meaningless in the big scheme of things, it gives us some measure of peace and security to be able to point to a marker of time’s passages and say, “This is over; this is just beginning.” In actuality, of course, the universe gives not a whit about a conjured date—Dec. 31 and Jan. 1 are just days, like any others.
This year, the universe be damned, I feel compelled to make an exception. My conscious mind knows flipping the calendar is just scorekeeping, but my soul craves the cleaning of the slate—real or not. Point in fact, this year’s metaphorical fresh start has more than a little basis in reality: there is a COVID-19 vaccine shining as the light at the end of a long, unimaginably dark tunnel; there will be a new president guaranteeing a return to professional expertise in the White House, and therefore in national policy and international standing. It will be a relief to again have a steady hand on the tiller, even though the new administration gets the ball deep in its own territory.
The challenges we face include these facts:
The virus will not be eradicated unless significant numbers of us actually take it. Anti-science conspiracy theories abound, and are a threat to the “herd-immunity” we need to finally and completely put this novel virus behind us.
The earth will not heal itself, and whether we will have taken a serious stand on climate change soon enough to save our grand- and great-grandchildren will remain an open question for now.
Racial strife will not abate without the strongest national reckoning we’ve ever made, and the prospects of that are not terribly good. The Obama presidency showed us how far we’ve come; the Trump presidency showed us how far we have to go in acknowledging and overcoming racism.
Russian intransigence has only grown with the aid of our denialism over the last four years. Now they’re deeply inside our computer networks. They’re inside our physical power and water infrastructure, and their finessing of our social networks gives them a foothold in our national psyche, sewing in us a level of self-doubt and division we have rarely known.
China is feeling its expansionist-oats. We’re drawn to their markets, perhaps at our own expense.
Our political disintegration will not heal itself, or be healed by any player currently on the stage.
Our national media promotes the socio-political strife that keeps us watching, filling their coffers as they usher us toward the gates of hell.
Our tech overlords do the same while professing to have no control over the monsters they’ve created. Monsters that bring some closer at the cost of driving more apart. An unsolvable dichotomy that they are loathe to even acknowledge, lest they leave a fortune on the table.
I feel a little like presidential candidate Senator John Kerry in the wee hours at a candidate forum in Wisconsin late in the 2004 primary season. He advanced to the podium bleary-eyed, and tired to the bone after months of barnstorming. But as the field’s front-runner, he was obliged to speechify, and to do it last. He stared out at the dwindling audience and, noting the time and the seemingly unending procession of speakers, he began wearily, “Everything has been said, but not everyone has said it.”
There just isn’t much new to say about 2020, the year in which the world faced the first deadly pandemic in a century. The year in which a president with a fragile and insatiable ego went fully on tilt, slipping more deeply into self-serving fantasy. The year in which America’s original sin of slavery shone a light on our deepest divisions and had us talking past one another.
Maybe the thing to do, rather than focusing on the year that was, is to talk about the healing that is possible in the year to come.
I am hopeful for a brighter 2021. Is it tempting fate to say that things can’t get much worse? We all know they can, yet the proven resilience of the human spirit suggests that we are better off with hope for the future than fear of it.
With that, I wish you a happy, healthy new year, one in which hope outlasts fear, and love trumps hate.
Real or imagined, Let’s hear it for a fresh start.