‘Everywhere I go I see masks on the ground’

As I write this column, we are in that strange no-man’s land between Christmas and the New Year. There is always such a terrific buildup to Christmas, and then it is just–gone. We are left standing in a pile of ribbon and debris, tired, a piece of fruitcake in our hand. Come on, fruit cake is an acquired taste, just try it.

The birth of Baby New Year 2021 will be welcomed and celebrated with great joy the world over. We always have expectations for the upcoming year, many of them overblown or unrealistic, but the young 2021 carries an even greater burden of hopes and fears than most.

The United States will have a new president this January, of course, and then there is COVID-19. The so-called novel virus is not so novel anymore. It has insinuated itself into the patterns of our daily lives, whether we like it or not.

Everywhere I go I see masks on the ground. They lie sodden in parking lots and frozen to sidewalks. A burst of wind lifts a lost mask and carries into the street with a clutter of dead leaves. Nobody picks it up.

In previous years it was common to see a lost hat or mitten hung on a twig or fence by some kindly passerby so that its owner might find it. You don’t see that with masks. Even expensive store bought or beautiful homemade masks are left where they lie. No one wants to touch such intimate articles in the time of COVID.

Everyone wants to see the end of the pandemic. Everyone has high hopes for the efficacy of the new vaccines, but then again, not everyone is willing to be vaccinated. A majority of the population has to receive the vaccine to get rid of the virus. We’ll see.

I’m imagining the new year as a big empty field that stretches to the horizon. In this scene, it snowed during the night, and I am the first one up on New Year’s Day. No one has stepped on the new snow.

A new year is a clean slate, virgin territory, a chance to make a fresh start.

Thinking of 2021 this way may feel liberating, but it’s also a little stymying. It’s a lot to put on Baby New Year.

What if we make a false move, as we are prone to do, and mess up the year early on? We might think then, oh, what’s the use, the resolution is already broken.

I wonder if social scientists at a major university have ever conducted a study to determine whether people consume more junk food, alcoholic beverages and tobacco products and generally engage in riskier behaviors during the last month of the year–December–than in any other month?

Actually, who needs a study? We know this to be true. Sales figures bear it out. Everyone is packing as much bad behavior as they possibly can into what’s left of the old year before they start trying to follow their New Year’s resolutions. Immunologists warned us that travel over the 2020 holidays would spike the spread of the virus, and yet airlines have reported the highest numbers of passengers since March.

In our battle with the COVID-19 pandemic, I hope we will all do our best to listen to the scientists and avoid slacking off.

When considering our New Year’s resolutions, instead of using the black and white, untrammeled snow, all or nothing approach, it might be more useful to keep in mind that in reality the first of January is no different from any other day. Every day, whether it’s in January or July or any other month, is a new day. Every hour is a new hour. Every minute–you get my gist. Try again. Don’t give up.

Remember when the millenium freaks predicted that as the new year rang in for 2000, everything would blow up?

Remember how people ran around in a snit like Cinderella at the ball, knowing that her coach was on the verge of turning into a pumpkin? People were buying generators and stockpiling water, food and first-aid supplies.

I don’t wonder that New Year’s resolutions seldom succeed. We are all in a weakened condition after the holidays, even though, once again, we have failed to blow up.

I saw a sign the other day that made sense to me: Don’t Look Back, You’re Not Going That Way.

Keep the faith, and Happy New Year.