In a year of discomforts, both acute and general, I’ve found one train of thought reliably comforting: how will we talk about this past year when it has long since passed? The very question propels one out of this murky present and into a future which, however unknown, is decidedly different. The children will marvel. We, the survivors, will be better able to recall the silver linings, better able to discuss our pains once we’re no longer consumed by them. We will be able to say of so much, “do not take that for granted.” We’ll be annoying as hell.
Because this fantasy of the future always leads me to this folksy place of grandparently wisdom, it winds up serving up another, ironic kind of comfort. It connects us and our present suffering to the past, to suffering that has passed. Never in my life have thoughts of such crises as the Black Death or the Great Depression, World Wars or the Influenza Epidemic been a source of comfort, as that would be, well, pretty fucked up. Enter 2020. The horrors of the past, while still just as horrible, have a new message for those of us who were not yet born to experience them. Society – or, at least, the survivors – pressed on through deprivation, devastation, and demonstrations of mind-meltingly poor citizenship. At the risk of sounding trite, it’s encouraging to imagine that limiting myself to bi-weekly grocery runs is the Coronavirus Pandemic equivalent of planting a Victory Garden. In that light, it’s not a burden, it’s an act of duty and solidarity. And all without getting dirt under my nails (though, had I the plot for it, a Pandemic Victory Garden would have been both a great way to get food and an excellent use of all that time at home; all my new houseplants only need so much tending.)
With all due respect to “No mask, no entry” and “You’re still on silent/Mute yourself,” for me, the 2020 Phrase of the Year has got to be, “Time has no meaning.” It comes up everytime I recall that play I saw last February and, with shock, realize it was actually THIS February, pre-Lockdown, back when I was still thinking of the pandemic as someone else’s terrible problem. “Time has no meaning” was invoked by every chat between my roommate and me that began, “a few days ago, I mean a few weeks ago...or wait, what month is it?” There were more of these exchanges than I can count. As we waded through these “two weeks” of lockdown that ballooned into months of never knowing enough about what we were facing, time began to twist. Remember when two weeks seemed like forever? Months of guessing, feeling so powerless to do anything but stay home or mask up (futilely cursing those who were not following the same guidelines as we... or, at least, I certainly did and heard a lot of that!) had many of us discussing what we could not do as if the present circumstances were permanent.
“Remember parties?” I’ve heard people say countless times. It’s always a half joke, half cri du cœur, and I’ll confess to you, every time I hear these half jokes I get itchy. I try to do what I know I should: laugh, sigh, then summon my skills as a soother and say kindly, “we will have parties again, we just have to get through this.” And sometimes that’s what I do. But sometimes my best self doesn't get the memo and I snap. “Yes, I remember parties! We lived with parties our whole lives, not to mention all of human existence. This is one year! We’ll have parties again, we just have to get through this!" This tantrum, when it happens – internally or externally – isn't about the person I'm responding to. It's me trying to fend off a bigger freakout of my own, desperately grasping for the long-range perspective that's kept me from slipping into the dark morass that hides between the cracks no matter the year – it's just that this year, those cracks are gaping and everywhere.
Time is the very element I am invoking when I consider how we’ll see 2020 in far retrospect. I call on the mystical forces of past and future to stabilize me through this turbulent present. I know the future will not be perfect, but also that those of us who arrive there will be the stewards of something that so many were robbed of by the virus and its criminal politicization – Time. More time. We’re not there yet, but the calendar page has flipped, and this new year comes with a solution (the long-game miracle that is modern science!) as well as a patience I'd wager none of us knew we possessed this time last year. Two weeks is nothing now; It's much less important how long the tunnel is if there's a light at the end of it. So may we ring in 2021 with a cautious optimism, not forgetting all we've learned, knowing what we want to return to and what we want to leave in the past for good. I for one have never had a clearer sense of my own immense privilege, previously more likely to lament what I've not yet gotten for myself than to notice all the things I am so fortunate to have, including many I was simply born into. Not this year.
Above all, may we greet 2021 not dropping our guard, not forgetting our duty to one another, and doing our part to get as many of us as possible into that bright new day, years from now, where we annoy the shit out of future generations by saying “Oh, you wanna stay inside, do you? Lemme tell ya kids, you don't know how good you have it..."