We finally are reaching the end of this interminable, news-packed but oddly featureless year. This is the last Jewish Standard to be marked (pock-marked?) as belonging to the terrible year 2020.
Although certainly many of us have had years that were worse for us personally — deaths, disappointments, illnesses, reversals of fortune — it is impossible to think of any at all in our lifetimes, or probably since the end of the Second World War, that have been as catastrophic. The pandemic has gripped the entire world; in the United States, more people have been dying every day than died on September 11. Our economy is cratering. Our sanity is wavering. Our republic’s main assumptions — that we believe in the peaceful transition of power; that people who lose elections will concede like grown-ups, with grace and good will, even if they rage inside; that not only will the guardrails hold, but that they will not be battered so that they can stand only lopsidedly, at weird angles, like the ones you see at the side of the Turnpike or the Thruway right after the bloody accident is cleared away — are shattered. So far they’ve held, but they’re shaky, and so are we.
We have learned some weird lessons this year. We have learned that time passes oddly. President Donald J. Trump was impeached just a year ago, although it feels like decades. It was just after that when we started hearing stories about a disease that was running through passengers on some cruise ships. We started wondering what it would feel like to be one of those passengers, but how innocent we were then! We didn’t realize that pretty soon we’d know what it feels like firsthand.
We have learned that we make sense of time’s passage through habits and schedules and rituals. When we don’t have to get up to go to work, when we don’t have to commute, or pay tolls, or buy gas, we start losing track of the intervals between those things. This odd season has given us the chance to watch nature as it tracks time — we’ve been able to see trees sprout buds and then tender green leaves and then full canopies, and then turn bright colors and fall into heaps of crunchy brown. Flowers push through the ground, bloom, and wilt. The sun’s angle changes; now, in its most recent production, nature has given us snow. It’s almost been like living inside time-lapse photography. Meanwhile, the holidays that we use to mark human time have not as much vanished as morphed almost unrecognizably into some other form.
Yes, there have been some good things too. The internet allows us to celebrate and mourn with people close to our hearts but far from our homes. We get to see people close up on our screens rather than far away on a stage. (I could deal without the views up people’s noses, but maybe that’s just me.)
So now days are getting longer again, even if they’re still inconveniently short. There are vaccines, even if most of us are going to have to wait for them. We remain bitterly divided, but still we’re moving forward.
But as we look forward to the new year, it seems safe to say that not many of us are tempted to look back at the year we’re saying good riddance to. Forget double-faced Janus this year, looking forward and back. This year, it feels like we’re more like Orpheus, doomed if we look back. But unlike Orpheus, I think few of us will be tempted to make his mistake.
It’s time to say goodbye to 2020, a year whose name promised clarity — 20-20 vision!! — but didn’t deliver. And to say hello to 2021; at the very least, most likely it won’t be worse that 2020. Right? Right???
We wish our readers the best possible new year; we hope for peace, healing, and happiness as the light continues to grow.