While there is a country north of us and another country south of us, our contiguous United States of America runs east and west, from sea to shining sea. We span a few time zones, and although the hands on our clocks might be different at any given hour, by and large we all number our years with the same calendar.

It’s an understatement to say that most of us will be very happy to discard our 2020 calendars. At the same time, we must admit the year was not all bad. There are some pleasant memories, bright spots amidst the turmoil. Somebody has given 2020 a Chinese-y name, The Year of the Skunk. Preacher friend Dan passed along a matching name for 2021, The Year of the Ox, that Biblical ox in the ditch, waiting to be pulled to safety and the promise of a new life.

To many of us, 2020 might always be the “worst year of our lives,” a phrase we had previously given to events and situations of past years. There were personal tragedies … death of a loved one, a house fire, a flood, a lingering illness, a divorce, the loss of a job, the failure of a business. And there were national, manmade tragedies in my lifetime … the assassination of President Kennedy, the Nixon scandal, the horrors of Sept. 11, 2001, Pearl Harbor and the ravages of too many wars, and much, much more. And always and ever, the punishing side of Mother Nature’s personality wreaked havoc with hurricanes and earthquakes, tornadoes and blizzards, wildfires and floods.

But through all of this, there was never the plague such as has descended upon us today. It has given us new personalities. We are not ourselves, or at least we are not the selves we were before coronavirus. In fact, we probably will never return to the lives we lived previously, which may be a good thing. The pandemic will have left scars, defined by Webster as “a mark left by the healing of injured tissue.” The comforting word there is “healing.” The scar will be the reminder that life, in spite of the frightening times, can be beautiful. There are glimmers of hope for better days, and moments of gratitude for the occasional “good news.” We have become very tired of the constant Breaking News headlines on the TV screen. Too often it translates to Heart-Breaking News. We’re ready for new headlines, knowing full well that our age-old adage of “It could be worse” is not a fallacy. It has become increasingly apparent that not only could it be worse, it is worse, and all indications are that it will continue to worsen. But the rest of the adage tells another story. It could be worse … “before it gets better.” But it will get better. It’s a matter of time and patience and, for those of us who care more for each other than we care for ourselves, a time of acceptance of the things over which we have no control except in our ability to avoid crowds, cover our faces, and wash our hands. It sounds simple, but as humans we are not famous for acting in a simple manner. We don’t want to be accused of being simpletons.

We have learned a few things in 2020. Our vocabulary has increased greatly. Folks my age have memories of being quarantined for measles, but younger folks have never heard the word until now. And whatever does social distancing mean! It seemed strange at Christmas to sing “Don we now our masked apparel” when the only masks we ever wore were donned at Halloween. I’ve given up on all the medical lingo. It’s easier to leave it to the experts. I’m just very grateful to know that grandson Johnny got his vaccine last week. He’s in medical school, and will be with patients over the next few weeks. He refrains from using those complicated terms and words in conversation. We just talk about happy times in the past and the promises of a bright future.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution carried a three-page chronology of the pandemic recently, just in case we might forget the progression sequence. It reads like the diary the virus might have kept. In the same issue, there were four full pages of obituaries. Amidst all the anxiety of the virus has been the added frustration of a national election and now a statewide election. It’s a horrible equation: pandemic plus politics equals pandemonium. Or, if we’re not careful, pessimism. One suggestion making the rounds online says, “Just wait till 2020 turns 21 and starts drinking.”

Best we look ahead with determination and hope. We’ve settled into a new pattern, new sets of habits, new situations, and yet we hold onto the idea of survival and revival. We want to return to a daily routine, the kind that is beginning to fade from our memories. Have we learned anything from this shared experience? Only time will tell. Happy New Year’s. May your new calendar be filled with things to do, people to love, and moments to look forward to.

Juanita Hughes is a retired head of the Woodstock Public Library and a local historian.

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