The Year We Wish Wasn’t

So, 2020. End of a decade. Election year. Annus horribilis.

A year when you coordinated masks with your outfit. Had apocalyptic dreams. Decided Stephen King’s The Stand was prophetic.

A year when you panicked over toilet paper and antiseptic wipe shortages. When you tried ordering groceries on line. When you realized in the 40 years since you taught seventh grade math, all the terminology had been changed in fourth grade math. When you turned your home office into a virtual schoolroom.

A year we won’t soon forget. A year slouching toward its demise and all the doomsayers are suggesting we find something positive about the year we wish wasn’t.

You Want Something Positive?

Okay, here you go. We had an election. A secure one. A well-monitored one. An election where the loser threw a hissy fit from the day he lost until…well, likely, forever.

Where’s the positive in that, you ask?

In the identity of the loser.

Hang on, I’ll do better.

Five books. As in, five of my books got published: two novellas and three novels. Now, the real accomplishment would have been if I’d written those five books this year and they got published. The truth is they were all completed, edited, and proofread some time ago. I was waiting for the right time to publish them, and the schedule of publication was actually determined in 2019 before we’d heard of COVID-19.

Another positive: As lockdowns took effect, I sold more books and had more page reads in March, April, and May this year than any other time since my first book was published in 2000.

Okay, another positive. My first published book, now out of print, had its twentieth book-versary this year.

The reality, however, is that I didn’t write a single word on a new project from mid-March through October. The positive in that is a renewed sense of creativity, something I thought the events of 2020 had sapped from me. Almost every day came the name of someone well-known–singers, songwriters, actors, sports figures–who died from “complications of COVID-19.” Then came posts on social media of spouses, siblings, parents, grandparents, and, yes, children dying of COVID-19. It was so easy to give up and accept an inevitability you felt powerless to even attempt to change.

The positive in that is your faith in science and in a government you served for three decades to do what needed to be done was strengthened. Well, the latter aspect of that didn’t happen, but that was because of poor leadership from the top and his political appointees. The positive is that you did the things others scoffed at, complained about, rallied against, and you didn’t get sick. It was tempting to gloat when the number of infections spiked after rallies by people defying the guidelines, but you didn’t. That was positive.

You stuck to your plan: wear a mask, don’t leave the house except for critical supplies, keep physically distant, even when in your neighborhood, no one wore a mask outdoors and asked why you did going to your mailbox.

“Because I don’t know who has walked here without a mask and left droplets from breathing, droplets within which might be a virus and which can linger in the air for a long time.”

You did get tired of your own cooking, so you learned new things, tried new foods.

You did get tired of your own company, but you learned new ways to entertain yourself.

And, of course, you learned how to ZOOM.

But Sometimes the Losses…

…could be overwhelming, whether they were COVID-related or not.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. There aren’t enough words to express this grief. Her stalwart fight for women to be recognized as human beings is truly one of the greatest struggles in history. Because she was that good, we put the burden of saving the entire country on her and that backfired. Big time.

Rep. John Lewis. Certainly at the top of the civil rights pantheon of icons, Rep. Lewis was someone who could have worked to tear down the country that had almost killed him for the color of his skin. Instead, he decided to serve that country, to change it from the inside, institution by institution. We shall not look upon his like again.

Chadwick Boseman. Why an actor? Because in his performances he made his characters–real or fiction–touchable, relatable to audiences who might not have heard of them before. His Jackie Robinson was a subtle yet powerful performance that made you understand what the real Robinson endured. And the Black Panther. Boseman made a fictional character so real and so human you wanted to hope he was indeed the benevolent king of a technologically powerful and rich African nation.

Jim Lehrer. A journalist with integrity and humility overflowing. A man who sought to get to the heart of the story and brought the truth out with him. His expectations of our newsmakers were high, and he never feared shining the light of truth on anyone.

Dame Diana Rigg. This is the actress who inspired one of my own characters, and who, through her portrayal of Emma Peel, showed me women can fight back and hold their own against an enemy. A little bit of Emma Peel and Dame Diana Rigg lives on in my character Mai Fisher.

And the toughest loss for me, comes last. John le Carre. I’ve already written an appreciation of his life for this blog, so I won’t repeat any of that, except to say he’s a hard act to follow, but he will inspire me to write the best, most realistic stories I can.

This is not to diminish my friends’ and families’ losses this year. Those touched and affected me, too, far more than I may have expressed verbally. As difficult as it was to lose people who inspired me, that pales in comparison to a sister, a mother, a son-in-law, a friend. I left those, too; every one.

Let’s Not Put Too Much Pressure on 2021

After all, we still have a lot to deal with. There’ll be more COVID-related deaths before they slow down and diminish. We have to figure out a way to get vaccines to as many people as possible in the least amount of time. In normal circumstances, we could trust the government to manage that, but it will be busy rebuilding itself after four years of systematic dismantling by lovers of fascism and libertarianism.

But it has to be better, you declare.

Of course it will. We will be better accustomed to physical distancing, to social isolation, to wearing masks, and to learning more about ourselves, i.e., that we’re far more badass than we realized. We did what we needed to do, and we survived a plague of medieval proportions.

Well, not really, but I’m a writer. Hyperbole is a tool.

So, let’s be patient with 2021. Don’t expect too much of him or her right away. This new year will confront old and new challenges. Let’s do our best to make 2021 a revival, a restoration, and a year we won’t want to forget.

Happy New Year to my readers! You’ve made this year worth surviving.