Just Thinking: By any name, 2021 is a year to separate from 2020
I’m being very cautious about 2021.
It’s the new year, which we’ve all been anticipating the way we’d anticipate getting the casts on both arms removed, but I’m skeptical.
Remember, we welcomed 2020.
“It can’t be worse than 2019,” we said as we turned the calendar. Titanic passengers disappointed with the lunch service on their third day out might have murmured something similar about the fourth day at sea.
We all were wrong.
Three months into the year that couldn’t come soon enough, the world shut down, face masks went from novelty wear to being as common as socks, if people hung socks from their rearview mirrors, and conversations were studded with words like “droplets,” “epidemiology” and “surge.”
Oh, and a presidential election was rushing up. It wasn’t held until November, but it rushed up for 11 months, which was exhausting.
In short, the 2019 holiday poinsettias weren’t even dead yet when 2020 began to seem more Amityville Horror than Ozzie and Harriet. At least in the dear old days of 2019, we could purchase bathroom tissue without plotting out a strategy more complicated than the Allies’ invasion of Normandy. At least our grown children weren’t examining us for symptoms.
Life was simpler then is what it comes down to. You’d think staying home is as simple as it gets, but when a door closes, trust humans to throw open all the windows, barricade the streets, surround the statehouse and talk about secession.
But that was last year, and last year is history. When I was a teenager, I went off to church camp one year and told everyone my name was Jamie. Callow, yes, and fatuous, but the amazing part is, it worked. To this day, there are people in the world who know me only as Jamie.
I suggest 2021 try the same trick.
After all, only one little number separates it from That Awful Year That Just Ended. Another name entirely might make a world of difference. It can’t call itself Jamie because that one’s mine, but otherwise, the possibilities are wide open.
“This is 2021, but everyone calls it Twenty-twenty-Wonderful,” newscasters could say. Or “everyone calls it Joe.” It really doesn’t matter. The idea is to separate this year from last year.
In 1979, when I had a 2-year-old, lived in an isolated farmhouse and knew almost no one in my neighborhood, I became obsessed with the news. The shah was being overthrown, China was flirting with the Vietnamese border and I took to turning on the radio late at night just to make sure the inevitable late-night conversations about werewolves and communicating with dead people and evidence of aliens among us were proceeding as usual. They always were, and I was reassured, though never for long.
As it turned out, 2020 was the year we all became obsessed with the news. We all woke up and checked our phones; we all braced ourselves for whatever fresh hell had happened overnight. “Citizens” became synonymous with “news junkies,” and even people who couldn’t have named the past three vice presidents were talking earnestly about defense, national security, health care and cult of personality.
It’s finally 2021, though, and we’re looking ahead.
“Listen,” we’d like to say, “we endured 2020 because it ran away with us, and all we could do was keep on swimming, keep on swimming," like that forgetful fish said, and although we kept wanting to slow down or take a few days off, it was like trying to change a tire while the car is barreling along at breakneck speed.
Now, though, we say, “Enough!”
Enough feeling we have to watch the government because nobody else is doing it. Enough feeling like parents who hired a babysitter, only to realize the babysitter needs to be babysat, so instead of going to dinner, we’re hanging around looking in the windows, luckily, since she’s setting fires or selling our things online or at the very least teaching the baby to play seven-card stud. We want normal life, do you hear? We want to get back to caring about what’s going on in “Agnes.” We want to zone out.
Here’s to a new year we all can love.
Write to Margo Bartlett at firstname.lastname@example.org.