Goodbye, 2021

Before we all kicked the year 2021 square in the butt, I’m sure we were already imagining ways in which 2022 might be better. It can’t be worse, we all say with more wishful thinking than confidence. I wonder, though, whether we begin 2022 with greater determination to succeed in our resolutions and promises or instead with a noncommittal shrug of the shoulders that suggests we wield less power over our lives than we would wish. Like the next person, I gave some thought to the new year, but at this juncture there’s still a great deal of vagueness; I’d say my resolutions are yet unformed, but might include ideas such as “be kinder” and “practice intentionality”, which means, I think, that I won’t be able to continue for long with my yet unformed resolutions. The impediment to launching — right now — into any list of concrete, measurable, and healthful goals is that I’m not finished with 2021.

It started by musing out loud in the presence of my daughter that there must have been something positive about 2021, some gains; you can’t have a whole year that was just awful from beginning to end. . . can you? Thus, before I wrestle with any mental exercises to view 2022 with suitable optimism, I’ll pause to reflect on the upside of 2021.

So, here’s what I’ve got:

  • Our society is thinking more creatively about the 40-hour/week/9-5 work paradigm. The concept of “deep work” finally caught on, resulting in lots of companies going to a four-day work week. The common sense inherent in the term means that businesses have re-structured how their workers behave while on the clock. Without getting into the finer points, a couple of typical examples would be: adjustments to meeting schedules to allow for greater productivity, and when and how many times a worker should look at email messages. Businesses have generally been urged to consider modifications that bring about greater efficiency, less wasted time. In a related way, working remotely has become acceptable; finally, employers are trusting that many tasks can be performed off-site and out of view of the boss.
  • Lighter traffic on the roads. As a consequence of the first item on this list, there are fewer cars, hence fewer annoying people out there. In many cases, we are also surprised by available parking where heretofore one had to be unusually lucky to find a parking spot.
  • Improved air quality (especially in countries and regions with historically horrible patterns of pollution, namely the United States, China, and Europe), less so in countries that have already been proactive in reducing carbon emissions (such as Sweden).
  • Expanded choices for lovers of jigsaw puzzles. I leave you to reflect on that however you will.
  • “Oobleck” is officially in the dictionary. (Increased home schooling likely was a factor.) In a year in which Dr. Seuss’ legacy came under harsh scrutiny, this validation by Merriam-Webster warms the heart of all of us. Who didn’t — at least once (and probably only once) — destroy their parents’ kitchen creating a school project with a cornstarch, water, and food coloring concoction? And, of course, because memory softens over time, we repeated the nightmare with our own children.*

It’s easy to see how the few examples above inter-connect, at least if we tease out their genesis. And while it might cause us to pucker our faces, the notion that COVID has brought about anything good is worthy of rejoicing. Such thinking allows us to say with no sense of contradiction, Hallelujah, and good riddance, 2021!

*Recipe for Oobleck: 1c cornstarch, 1-2c water, few drops food coloring; add water to cornstarch in mixing bowl; add food coloring. To achieve desired consistency, add more water or cornstarch as needed.

Fun Fact: quicksand operates on the same principle as Oobleck; they’re non-Newtonian fluids, neither solid nor liquid. Instead they get their properties by either increasing or decreasing pressure. Here’s a great article on Oobleck by Scientific American, whereby they even coax you to make a “big batch” of the substance in a large bin, then remove your shoes and socks and step into it and walk around in it. (Do you sink in when you stand on it? they invite you to discover.)

Sacrificing Family Gatherings to a Wily Virus

Bowie and Mona demonstrate the importance of family

The COVID scare has certainly altered our social behaviors, and no one knows how permanent these changes will be. Not all of the changes are bad, however; they just require more reflection and deliberate choices. For example, in the past, we might have comfortably crowded people in front of us in lines, or squandered time studying labels in a grocery store or the advertised features on boxes, bottles, and what have you. We’re more mindful these days, I believe, of the quality of our time spent around others. We’ve been forced to prioritize our moments in public. It seems that everyone I know has arrived at a similar juncture; we’re all sacrificing certain pleasures  in order to maintain some normalcy where it concerns the most important occasions or experiences.

To a heightened degree, all of us are weighing our options, with the hope that our sacrifices will result in reduced risk to our health and the health of those about whom we care most. Our family decided for the second year in a row to forfeit our Christmas Eve gathering, a tradition we have honored — unwaveringly — for several decades. While I tend to think we all were on board with that decision — as COVID cases rise once again, there’s a sense of mounting anxiety, not just about wellbeing, but the fear that a pattern is emerging because of this highly transmissible virus, and we might never extricate ourselves from this predicament. What does that mean for family gatherings? How long can we collectively hold our breath, in hopes that we prevail over COVID (in all of its mutations)? And how many of us are worrying that our sacrifices will fail to save these important traditions, that they’ll be lost forever?

Every family out there must be fretting about the fate of their traditional gatherings. With all the sacrificing that people are doing, it seems a line in the sand has been drawn. Some things shouldn’t have to be sacrificed. I don’t hesitate for an instant in making a choice between a concert and my family’s Christmas Eve event. Or a Bruins game and a week camping with my sister’s family. Wherever things stand a year hence, I resolve to no longer surrender the moments that make life worth living.

What are the sacrifices that all of you have been forced to make in order to (hopefully) propel yourself and others to a safer plateau?