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  • Jan Flynn

A Cautious Happy New Year

We’re not out of the woods yet, but we can glimpse the clearing

Image by M. Maggs from Pixabay

Christmas 2020 is in the rearview

Despite the harsh contrasts between this Christmas and its predecessors, and despite its restrictions and isolation, the day at least offered a pause. With churches, restaurants, and even movie theaters closed down, many of us had the opportunity to pull in our energy, to grow quiet, to detach from the outside world. Maybe we Zoomed or FaceTimed with family. Maybe we streamed Wonder Woman 1984. Or maybe we simply cocooned, ignoring this Christmas to the best of our ability.

However we got through Christmas, it’s been gotten through. Next on the horizon is New Year’s Eve, another occasion that must needs be muted. No traditional bacchanal this year; no crowds standing elbow-to-elbow in Times Square, no champagne-and-caviar late-night soirees (at least, I hope not). You can tune in for a virtual event and sip your bubbly from your couch, if you wish.

If you’re even in the mood.

We’re all ready to say goodbye to 2020. But are we ready for 2021?

Let me be clear: I truly do wish you a Happy New Year — whoever you are, wherever you are, and whoever you voted for in November (if you’re in the U.S.). But there are many of us who aren’t up for putting on a happy face, and I don’t want my well-wishing to come at you with some implied demand that you participate in cheer when you’re not feeling it.

If you’re reading this, you’re a survivor of 2020, and that’s something. But too many of us who should be here to celebrate the turn of another year are missing. Thousands upon thousands upon thousands of us are grieving, and many more are anxious about what’s to come. We keep hearing from our more credible leaders and experts that we can expect things to get worse, pandemic-wise, before they begin to get better — possibly much, much worse.

Yes, the star of hope is coming up over the horizon. But to torture a metaphor, the horizon that star illuminates is a moving target. Yes, there are astoundingly effective vaccines on their way. But how long will it take for enough of us to get those two shots in the arm? How does the distribution system work, exactly, and how will we know when it’s time to get in line, if there is an actual line? And will enough of us trust the vaccine to get it?

Meanwhile, reports of a new coronavirus strain that’s 56% more contagious are flooding the news media. There are, in fact, possibly three new strains circulating in a growing number of countries across the globe — none identified yet in the U.S, but that’s almost certainly because we haven’t been looking for them.

Viruses, of course, mutate rapidly and constantly — that’s why you get a new flu shot every year (you do, don’t you?). And none of the scientists looking at these developments are concerned that the new strains won’t be just as vulnerable to the vaccines. But it’s hardly news that makes for a good night’s sleep.

Our leadership still isn’t coming through for us

Americans desperately await relief from the economic devastation that COVID has wrought. As of this writing, twelve million people are losing their unemployment benefits. New Year’s Eve will see the end of the moratorium on rental evictions, which could result in up to 40 million more of us becoming homeless — a humanitarian crisis at any time, and even more dire in the midst of a pandemic.

After months of tortuous wrangling, the House and Senate finally got it together to pass a relief bill — far from a perfect one, but it was something. We were all set to breathe a small sigh of relief, until the Disruptor in Chief threw one of his well-timed Trumper-tantrums and threatened to veto it.

He wants to give us all $2,000 instead of $600. Okay, fine! But he’s also unhappy with an undisclosed number of other provisions in the 5,000-plus page bill, and who knows what exactly those are and if he’ll sign a revised bill even if the Republicans agree to the additional stimulus money (which they won’t)? Will he still veto? Nobody knows.

If he does, will Congress override him? They’ve got the votes at the moment, but will enough Republicans find their backbones and follow through should POTUS send the bill back unsigned? Who knows?

I’m not going to say a lot about the Current Occupant here — one of the few pleasures of 2020 is that he’s about to join the year as a relic of the past — except to note how he reminds me of Tinkerbell. A bloated, racist, sexist, narcissistic Tinkerbell, who without enough attention and applause is in danger of winking right out of existence.

Where was I? Oh, yes, 2021

I feel a bit sorry for January at the best of times. All the sparkling lights and ornaments get shoved back into boxes, or if not, they just sit around looking out of date and tacky. Following a six-week round of holidays, January is one long cold shower after party night. People don’t celebrate January (except for Day One, which is sort of a consolation prize) — they make resolutions instead, setting up expectations for themselves that are prone to fade from memory by Valentine’s Day.

This January will be burdened with expectations like no other. Besides the usual, there’s the Georgia Senate runoffs on January 5 (if you live in Georgia, one of the many well-meaning and irritating get-out-the-vote calls you’ve gotten may have been from me, and I really am sorry to bother you, but there’s just so much riding on your decision). The very next day is when Congress does its count of the Electoral College votes, putting the last touch on the officialdom of the presidential election — a formality that normally takes no more than a half hour, but which threatens to devolve into one last, dragged-out carnival show.

At last, January 20 will arrive, and with it the inauguration. Will it usher in a honeymoon period of renewed civility and a focus on coming together to pull the nation out of its current death spiral? Or will the nightmare circus just stake out its tents somewhere else?

Who knows? We can hope for the former, and brace ourselves for the latter.

That’s why 2021 is going to demand courage

The holidays might be a break, at least for some of us, but 2020 has pretty much beaten the tar out of us. We’re tired, we’re sad, we’re isolated, we’re struggling with an advanced case of cabin fever, and the winter we’ve been warned about stretches ahead.

Yet there is good reason for hope — the new administration has named overcoming the COVID crisis its topmost priority, and promises that more economic relief will be part of that effort. We’re already seeing the power of responsible messaging, including videos of real people getting their shots: recent polling shows that the percentage of Americans who say they are “likely or certain” to get a COVID vaccination has grown from 50 per cent to above 60 per cent, enough to establish herd immunity. And while we’ve already got two vaccines up and running — a scientific, technological, and cooperative achievement that should not be downplayed — there are very likely to be several more ready to go in the coming year. At least Bill Gates thinks so, and he’s in a pretty good position to have an opinion.

2021 could well be the year that the U.S. seriously takes on the climate crisis (again, looking at you, Georgia — no pressure, but getting those two Senate seats could literally help save the world, just sayin’), now that we’ll have an administration that (a) acknowledges its existence and (b) is committed to addressing it. Oddly enough, the pandemic has given us a head start: 2020 saw a record drop in emissions due to widespread lockdowns. Of course those lockdowns aren’t the solution, but they do show us what’s possible. Philanthropy is on the rise, a trend that looks to continue — MacKenzie Scott’s $4.2 billion giveaway is the most famous example, a stirring throwdown to others who are in a position to change countless lives for the better, and an example to all of us.

But hope takes energy and requires risk — the risk of disappointment, of a negative return on emotional investment. Now that 2020 has had its way with us, we’re low on energy and our appetite for risk is at an ebb. But this is exactly the time when we need to dig in and find reserves of strength we didn’t know we had. 2021 may well be better, but not immediately, and how much better it is depends to some extent on the choices each of us make.

All the more reason to be good to yourself as the New Year dawns

Have some bubbly or eggnog or whatever soothes your spirits. Watch a good movie, and dial back your consumption of news and social media from a tsunami to a trickle, just enough to keep you in touch without swamping you. Find your courage and resolve, your point of poise between hope and realism. Wear your mask. Maintain your distance. Stay strong.

Better times are coming. Stick around.

And Happy New Year.

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