Happy New Year and welcome to the first edition of the Times for 2021. To be honest, I wasn’t sure about wishing you a happy new year, given that we’re already two weeks into the new year. It seemed, at first, to be a greeting that’s a little outdated already. But then, when I thought about it, I realised that the wish “Happy New Year” has probably never been as meaningful, and never said with as much sincerity, as it is this year.
Traditionally, saying “Happy New Year” has about as much meaning as that mildly irritating “Have a nice day”. (Incidentally, does that phrase mean “I hope you have a nice day”, in which case it’s a rather trite remark; or is it a command: have a nice day…or else? Oh well, a deep thought for another day, perhaps.) Wishing someone a happy new year is not something we think a lot about, usually. But this year, it’s different.
When we say it, we are almost all thinking about the past year, the year everything changed for us. Remembering the many who have died, the millions who suffered, the restrictions and loss of contact, the social isolation that has affected just about everyone, the incredible bravery and dedication of the frontline workers, the essential workers, the ones we must always honour, what we are saying when we wish someone a happy new year is that they may be saved from all of this in 2021.
Of course, we know it’s not over. Perhaps in the summer, maybe in the autumn, there will be some return to what may be considered normal. Vaccines promise much, and without them we can’t count on much improvement. We have learned, in these past many months, that we, as a society, have a clear limit to the amount of patience, endurance, and self-discipline we can continue to show. Some people, sadly, never had any of those things to begin with, and continued to endanger their friends, neighbours and families by their reckless disregard. But maybe that was not a surprise.
There is some pride in remembering how we responded to the Ice Storm in 1998; the way in which people came together to support each other during a very difficult time. But this pandemic was different: we weren’t able to be together physically, restricted in how much we could be of practical help, even to our own family members living away from home. That makes it much harder to deal with. But, when we enjoy what may be called 2020 hindsight, I think we will have a greater sense of pride that we survived these months. It is amazing still how much we’ve learned to accept the sight of people in masks wherever we go. We have adapted fairly well to the new realities of life in a time of covid; but it is not easy or fun.
One of the phrases that has been used quite a lot during this time has been “Together, apart”, that is still the aim, the thing we have to commit ourselves to. We have missed so much because of this accursed virus, and it is up to us that we don’t lose more than we must. Do whatever you can to support your family and neighbours: support local stores and businesses as much as possible. Try and find ways to keep in touch with your regular contacts, even if only by email, phone, text, social media, or whatever way you can.
When this is over, and it will be over one day, think how wonderful it will be to hug someone again, to travel anywhere you want, without let or hindrance. Think what it will be like to meet your friends at club meetings, church services, or anywhere you want. To visit someone at their home for a meal, or a chat, or a song or two. To play hockey, or baseball, or soccer, or to curl, to act in a play, or just to attend one, or a concert, or an open stage. Imagine the freedom we once had. Those days are coming again, sooner or later.
Then we might be able to really appreciate that life again, but in a new way. As veterans of a great struggle, a life or death challenge that we, as a world, confronted for so long. I can remember my mother and grandmother telling me about what they experienced during the Second World War; the privations, the rationing, the constant fear of death and loss of loved ones away for years. They always told me that we young people didn’t realise how easy we had it in comparison. They loved to sing the songs of those days, to remember the music and the dances, the smuggling and thrill of forbidden sugar, or nylons. One thing they rarely spoke of was the fear, the loss, the internal conflicts. They were determined not to dwell in the past in that way, but to enjoy every new day as much as possible.
Of course, that release, that restoration of freedom and normality, wore off to some extent as they faced the realities of living day to day. But something stayed with them from that time, something that understood how precious life, love, family, and friends really are. Whatever was coming next, they knew they could face, because of what they had already faced.
Maybe we’ll have those kind of stories to tell younger generations: stories of how we all wore masks everywhere. How we couldn’t travel as far as Ottawa, much less further afield (at least not legitimately). We’ll bore them with talk of these days when we struggled against an unseen enemy who terrorised the whole world. And we’ll tell them how we made it through to the other side.
So, look forward to those days when, as Vera Lynne sang: “We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when. But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day”. With all it means, and from all at the Times, let me say with deep conviction: Happy New Year!