“Ja, ja, happy new year. Again.”
That’s what I was thinking at this time last year, as the pandemic dragged on into 2021. Those words nudged me to check out the book from which I remembered them, The Upstairs Room by Johanna Reiss, a memoir of hiding from the Nazis in occupied Holland. I’m still grateful that the pandemic isn’t a war and isn’t a genocide! But as we begin 2022 with more than 1% of my county’s total population testing positive for covid-19 each day, I’m feeling that bitter exhaustion Reiss described as she began 1945 in the same room where she’d hidden on January 1, 1943.
Yet that gives me hope.
It totally sucks that, after thinking the war would wrap up in a few months, they found it went on into 1944 and then 1945. But we, the people of the future, know what happened in 1945: The Nazis were defeated, and some of the Jews survived, came out of hiding, and got on with their lives. So that second new year in hiding actually was the beginning of the year when things finally got better. There are many hopeful signs that 2022 could be that kind of year.
Although I laughed ruefully at a friend’s post saying, “2022 is just 2020, too,” the truth is that some big changes have happened in the past year. Every member of my household is fully vaccinated, and three of us have gotten boosters. Although infection rates remain high, it’s clear that vaccination reduces risk of infection and risk of death. It’s disturbing that so many Americans have chosen not to get vaccines and some of them have died of covid-19; I disagree with their decision, but they are human beings, their lives matter, and I don’t want them to suffer; I wish they would help us end this plague instead of feeding it! Still, feeling that my family and I are safer is a big improvement over 2020. We’re grateful to live in an area where vaccinations are popular, masks are still required in school and church, and the majority of people still/again wear masks in every indoor public place and make some effort to social-distance from others. I’m also relieved that new medications for treating covid-19, and for protecting people with immune deficiencies, are being developed.
Also, after enduring 2020 without crossing a state line or seeing any member of our family who doesn’t live with us, in 2021 we took a seven-state road trip and several day trips to Ohio; we visited relatives and had some relatives visit us. So this past year wasn’t just more of the same; it was better, a little more like normal life.
Similarly, after more than a year of distance learning, in September 2021 our kids returned to school. They’re appreciating the social life, and we parents are appreciating the opportunity to focus on our work instead of theirs.
Look back and compare what you did in the last ten months of 2020 with what you did in 2021, and you’ll probably see improvements, too.
Some of the books and songs that have inspired me to keep slogging along these past two years still inspire me now. Maybe they’ll help you keep going!
The idea that “it could be worse” helps me feel lucky by comparison, to feel grateful for what I have instead of grumbling about what I’m missing. Here are some of my favorite examples:
- The Upstairs Room and other stories of Jews in hiding remind us that pandemic restrictions haven’t been all that oppressive: At least we can go outside! At least we can look out the windows without worrying about being seen! And we even have television and computers to entertain us in captivity.
- “A Pail of Air” by Fritz Leiber reminds us to be grateful that we aren’t the only people left alive and that our planet still maintains a relatively hospitable climate. Read this 1951 short story online, and then read my article about sharing it with my kindergartner.
- The Martian by Andy Weir, which I read in 2015, continues to nudge my mind with gratitude for the many foods other than potatoes, and for communications options other than spelling out messages in Morse code with rocks and waiting hours for them to be seen on a satellite photo!
- Stories of pioneer life remind us to be grateful for shopping options, mail delivery, and neighbors! Also, stories of the not-so-distant past remind us that covid-19 is not the first serious illness to devastate families. My daughter and I found a lot to talk about in By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Spending many hours a week with my five-, six-, and then seven-year-old Lydia has meant listening to her favorite songs over and over and over again . . . yet some of them continue to touch my heart every time I really listen. Some of my old favorite songs have taken on new meaning for me in this time. Here are a few highlights:
- “The Bear Necessities” from Disney’s animated film The Jungle Book reminds me to check my privilege and think about what I truly need: “When you find out you can live without it and go along not thinking about it, I’ll tell you something true: The bare necessities of life will come to you!”
- “Sisi Ne Sawa” from Disney’s animated series The Lion Guard, in which a lion and a hyena learn to cooperate, cheerfully feeds my optimism about human beings eventually realizing we’re all in this together.
- “The Future” by Michael Franti happened to come up in my playlist on New Year’s Eve 2019, when I felt it perfectly evoked the feeling of what the 21st century had actually been like so far, and my hope for 2020 was political victory and a new societal harmony . . . and now it’s become my anthem for those moments when I’m eager to push through this pandemic era and move beyond those first two decades of the century and get on with something better, even as I’m kind of reeling through the terrible future in which we presently live: “Ready or not, we’re bringing it on! The whole world’s rocking, and the beat goes on!”
- “Turn, Turn, Turn” by Pete Seeger is a gentle reminder that things change and some times are bad times, but there are also good times, and both have value, and this is nothing new. It gave me perspective on the anniversary of the pandemic, and I keep thinking of it as the seasons keep turning. We didn’t choose this particular turn in our lives, but we each have a role in determining what comes next.
I’m appalled that there’s been any debate about whether or not Black Lives Matter, but I’m glad that we’re finally really talking about how there’s been something wrong with Earth policemen for a long time (when I wrote about it in 2008, the man shot dead within seconds of police contact was Asian), and we need to do better so we all can be safer. I’m glad, too, that the white people who attacked our U.S. Capitol Police are facing the consequences and having the embarrassing details reported in public.
Meanwhile, Pittsburgh just elected its first Black mayor and first Black Episcopal bishop, and I am thrilled to see their lives mattering in very positive ways that will improve so many lives of all colors.
Lydia and I have been enjoying Black Forager (Alexis Nikole Nelson)’s videos about how ordinary people in ordinary cities can find free food just lying on the ground or ripe for the picking. Lydia, who was a tiny embryo during our big apple foraging project, seems to have a lifelong interest in edible plants, which she’s continued to express as she plays on our street and talks with neighbors about their gardens. We’re both happy to learn from Black Forager, an informative, funny, adventurous, enthusiastic young woman whose ancestors happened to come from a different continent than ours. It’s annoying that some white people thought she shouldn’t mention her race, but she had a great response: “Everything that you eat has a story that you are the final chapter of…. When you’re responsible for how something ends up on your plate, you start thinking about who else is responsible.” That’s a great thing to think about when you feel alone or irrelevant: You, personally, are the final chapter in this food’s story; how are you going to write it?
That abandoned parking lot where Nicholas and I foraged apples in 2013 has been remodeled completely, and on that site is a new parking garage featuring wall panels with quotes from famous people. One of them serves as my reminder to focus on the present moment and what we can do now instead of waiting for the future.
Despite all that’s happened in the past two years, it’s still a privilege to be alive on Earth in this moment and to have the opportunity to see what comes next. I hope this is the year when we all get better!
What’s helping you get through 2022? Visit Hearth and Soul for other writers’ inspirations!