As a teenager, I would make a year-end list tallying all the things that had made the previous 12 months enjoyable and memorable. There would be TV shows and movies I loved, music and artists that moved me, my favorite books and foods, pro athletes, even family members who went above and beyond to offer support or just keep me laughing.
Last week I tried to create a list for 2021. After six entries, I gave up. Will 2022 be an improvement? Or will it score a Trash Year Hat Trick?
When democracy came dangerously close to extinction a mere six days into 2021, we should have known almost everything after would be feral. A nation cannot quickly right itself after an insurrection. For the first time ever, a man paraded a Confederate flag through the Capitol. For the first time ever, the peaceful transfer of power was in doubt. And not for the first time ever, white supremacy represented America’s greatest terroristic threat.
Bolstered by the Big Lie and a majority of Republicans hiding behind mendacious “election integrity” concerns, the attempted coup moved from the breached Capitol to Republican-led legislatures that unleashed voter suppression laws, purged Black Democrats from election boards, and gerrymandered districts. This nation could suffer its most unfair elections since the Jim Crow era.
Born with the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, democracy is in decline. The 2022 midterm elections will be a GOP test run for what is likely planned for the 2024 presidential election, the would-be autocracy edition.
Still, it was COVID-19 that again dominated our lives. This year began with the fragile hope of vaccinations offering the best protection from the pandemic. But despite the availability of effective vaccines, 2021 recorded even more COVID deaths than 2020. Last year’s unpredictability became this year’s frustration and anger at those who prolonged this horror, shunned science, and dished out and devoured disinformation, sometimes at the cost of their own lives.
I feel blessed that those in my life survived another year of this pandemic. More than 400,000 Americans weren’t as fortunate. I can’t really blame the virus. It’s doing exactly what a virus does dispassionately and relentlessly. Of course, we were warned; of course, not enough people listened. As COVID cases and deaths spiked in August due to the Delta variant, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Biden administration’s chief medical adviser, cautioned that an even more transmissible variant could develop and wreak havoc around the world.
When Fauci gave that interview, the seven-day average was more than 84,000 cases. Now with Omicron, the most transmissible variant yet, that average has swelled to more than 237,000 daily cases nationwide.
Widespread holiday travel and ongoing COVID testing shortages are expected to make for a grim January. Mass events like First Night Boston 2022 and the New Year’s Eve celebration in New York’s Times Square, both canceled last year, will bring crowds and the potential for super-spreader events.
If 2020 closed with very cautious optimism, 2021 is ending with the pandemic-driven uncertainties of what might lie ahead, especially with only 62 percent “fully vaccinated.” Let’s hope the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is strongly encouraging booster shots, finally abandons that now-outdated definition.
We shouldn’t be in this spot, yet we’re clinging to the idea that perhaps the worst of this pandemic lies behind us. (Unless every country worldwide has equal access to the vaccinations, this won’t end any time soon.) We are tired and demoralized by a virus that shows little mercy and too many people who are still opting for selfish ideology over the greater good.
Yet 2022 beckons and even dimming hope is still hope. It’s what has gotten us up each day to fashion new routines, carve out some solace, and not let our anxieties consume us even as we were making and remaking our lives as we went along.
Thinking about it now, I can’t remember why I started keeping those year-end lists. On some level, I imagine I wanted an accounting of what brought me comfort even when I was wallowing in some real or imagined angst. I needed to recognize that even in the midst of chaos, there are sparks in the darkness and moments that bear beauty and possibilities. That’s the energy I want going into the new year.
So I’ll take another shot at making that 2021 list. It’s a tangible reminder of the friends and family who’ve stayed close, the good health that has prevailed among us, the strangers who continue to find and share their better selves, and to welcome 2022 with more promise than dread.