A fresh start can happen any time

Well, it’s New Year’s Day. We did it!

Normally, around this time, many of us would be recovering from a big party at one of the halls or bars, or a gathering of family and friends. But 2020 was anything but a normal year.

My routine wasn’t changed much yesterday as my hard party days are behind me and New Year’s (and most holidays, really) has little significance to me. I only have a few good memories of the big New Year’s parties. The fashion show put on by the women was always impressive and, sometimes, there was a fight or two to liven things up but I really can’t think of one bash that stands out. The house parties were more fun for me because they involved mostly close friends and acquaintances.

For a lot of people, New Year’s is more meaningful if they’ve had a bad one. So, they say good riddance to 2020 and hope that 2021 is better. Like resolutions, to lose weight or learn something new, it doesn’t make much sense. The present is always more important, the best time to change, and flipping a calendar page over makes no difference.

That’s right: the virus that dominated 2020 still has another wave or two so, no matter how many glasses you lifted to 2021, you’re still going to have to wear a mask, keep your distance, work in your underwear, and find more ways to keep the kids amused. Even with the vaccine and the coming of that day when masks and social distancing aren’t mandated, world health experts are saying there could be other viruses around the corner.

Oh, we can drag our lips about it and mope (and, believe me, I have), or we can, well, carry on and make the most of it. There is a line in a book I am currently reading, that struck me as particularly relevant to our time: No matter what occurred in the world, no matter how near danger might be, life went on, and what could one do but live it? And that line was from a Jew as he watched Nazis march into Austria.

There’s no use playing the victim, as if cruel fate or God is messing with us. Life is often a shit show, a constant struggle and that, oddly, is what keeps the world turning. Stress is what makes us move, makes us get out of bed in the morning. I didn’t write my novel until I pretty much had to, until I agreed to deadlines. I’ve also learned to bake. And I’m taking another run at learning to play piano because, well, why not? In the past year, I was scared and I was challenged. And that, more often than not, is how we learn and feel alive – whether it’s 2020 or not.

I don’t mean to downplay the massive human tragedy that COVID-19 is. Too many people lost loved ones, some who had to die alone, and that is devastating. The majority of us, though, faced more inconvenience than heartbreak.

I have been fortunate in 2020. I got a new job where I help Indigenous people involved in the courts and corrections system improve their lives; every win, big and small, is very satisfying. My novel is doing quite well, despite my not being able to get out and promote it. And I got a short story in the new anthology, Influenced: stories from the lockdown.

COVID-19 has shone a brighter light on our huge societal problems, such as opioid addiction, racism in our institutions, the continued gross disparities in wealth, and global warming. All of these issues affect the poor and minorities much greater. I’m particularly hopeful on climate action. Climate change didn’t create COVID-19 but most scientists agree that it increased the likelihood of it and future ones happening. By not doing enough about climate change, we are essentially pulling up a chair for a pandemic and saying “your table, sir.”

Maybe we should look at 2020 as the Year of Awakening. We’ve been complacent. We let shit go on for too long. Lights have been shone into corners of darkness, where police target people of color and addicts are left alone in their apartments to die. Yet, we’ve also seen the heroism of medical workers, front line staff, and countless acts of kindness.

2020 gave us a common enemy. It would be easy to say it was COVID-19 because it’s faceless and there was seemingly nothing we could do to prevent it. But we know that it is we who are own worst enemy and taking responsibility, once and for all, will be how we build a better, safer world – in 2021 or any year.

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