I feel as though I should write something. I am tempted to say, “I don’t know what,” but the genre of New Year’s Eve writing is pretty standard, in general terms at least. It is a reflective effort. It places what has transpired into some greater context. It sets the stage for what is coming in the next year; it looks both back and ahead. Although no year is, in isolation, “normal,” this past year falls so far outside normal that reflecting upon it, as well as looking ahead from it, is not so routine. The task this year is far more daunting, the dynamics involved are broader and have many more facets. This is not nearly so personal.
But that’s probably as good a place to start as any. The personal. Personally, it has been a trying year, but not devastating. However, devastating is one of those words that, when applied in individual cases, one’s circumstances could be described as such whereas another’s similar circumstances might not be. One of my best friends contracted and, after a long battle, succumbed to COVID-19. That was devastating to his family, certainly, and to me personally, in many ways. But in the big picture, my life, overall, for 2020, was not “devastated.” I know I am splitting definitional hairs here, but it is important to illustrate the finer points of what the fallout 2020 meant to me at a very local level. Art’s passing was (and still is) a major blow, it hurts, still, I miss him a lot, but my life in the big picture goes on mostly the same. And, in his memory, he would want that. But — and this is kind of where I am going — currently there are more than 340 thousand others who have suffered the same fate this year, and their families are permanently and significantly altered because of it. In that respect, my life has not been “devastated.”
And in many other ways, it has not, either. I am in solid financial shape, my immediate family is safe and most of those I am close to and care about are well, too. Of course there is the psychological toll, everyone has been thrown into a discomfort zone; dealing with the unfamiliar, for many, has not been easy. And we like easy, don’t we? Our entire society is built on convenience, on ease, on comfort. But it’s also built to a large extent on community and the social nature of our species. Ironically, the technology that fosters both the ease and the community has made much of the trudge forward in the past year possible. Social media, virtual meeting software, delivery of goods and services and the like has made the isolation that so many despise workable. The very technology that makes us even more social has maintained our sociability and our functionality through this pandemic.
Of course technology cannot replace real human contact. Even though we were heading that way in very real terms — voluntarily and unwittingly — when forced to rely on technology exclusively, we have found it has significant limitations. Good. But one of the overtones I cannot help but notice, one that existed before and was already starting to bubble to the surface, went into a full boil. Incessant, wholesale and, frankly, embarrassing whining. When confronted with hardship, in the past, the people of this nation buckled down and did what was necessary. They did not whine, they did not complain, they did not bitch and moan about how hard it was or how inconvenienced they were. They did the work and they did it together. Not this time. Now we are a nation of whiners. And if nothing else, I hope 2020 shows us that and that we never succumb to it again.
So much for looking back. Looking forward, much about 2021 will be different. The pandemic will, in all likelihood, come to an end sometime mid-year. The political landscape will change; hopefully some level of decorum will return. Lessons to be learned are everywhere, lessons in courage, lessons in perseverance, lessons in empathy, in patience, in humanity and compassion, lessons in understanding one another. All of that and more are available if we, enough of us, are open to them. Our children and grandchildren will be taking the reigns and running this nation soon — many already are — and I am hopeful. More than 200 of them have been in my “virtual classrooms” this past year. They are bright and inquisitive, they are, more than ever, engaged. They care about their future and they care about their predecessors, too. They care about us. To those who have been bagging on the “millennials” and otherwise looking for a scapegoat in the younger generations, I have two words for you: Fuck off. They know who they are and, more importantly, they know who you are.
Like many of you, I am tired. Not so much of the isolation or the other hardships we must endure to get past this medical emergency — I can deal with that. I am tired of the attitudes. But I am hopeful that not just the end of this blip in history is near, but also that a paradigm shift is upon us. These “kids” have had quite enough and soon enough, they will be calling the shots. Those of you who feel that they are going to destroy the country, that because of them we are “going to Hell in a handbasket,” take heart. You needn’t worry so much. You and I will be dead before we get there.