John Steinbeck writes on January 1, 1941:
“Speaking of the happy new year, I wonder if any year ever had less chance of being happy. It’s as though the whole race were indulging in a kind of species introversion – as though we looked inward on our neuroses. And the thing we see isn’t very pretty… So we go into this happy new year, knowing that our species has learned nothing, can, as a race, learn nothing – that the experience of ten thousand years has made no impression on the instincts of the million years that preceded.
Not that I have lost any hope. All the goodness and the heroisms will rise up again, then be cut down again and rise up. It isn’t that the evil thing wins – it never will – but that it doesn’t die. I don’t know why we should expect it to. It seems fairly obvious that two sides of a mirror are required before one has a mirror, that two forces are necessary for a man before he is a man. I asked [the influential microbiologist] Paul de Kruif once if he would like to cure all disease and he said yes. Then I suggested that the man he loved and wanted to cure was a product of all his filth and disease and meanness, his hunger and cruelty. Cure those and you would have not a man but an entirely new species you wouldn’t recognize and probably wouldn’t like.”
Fortunately, for us, it was not quite the beginning of a world war but, all the same, it has not been a good year. There was much sadness and we were made acutely aware of the fragility of all the systems, we depend on and have had to face up to the frightening reality of being human and mortal and infinitely frail when confronted with something we do not understand and cannot control.
Moreover, we were confronted with ourselves – how frail we are, how badly we react to discomfort, how fearful we are of change and the unknown and how hard it is to live quietly and by ourselves.
All the same, many beautiful and good things happened as they always do in the face of adversity. And although this is by no means over and there are more difficulties to come, it is also a time we will never forget.
It is a story that will be told for many years to come – stories of how everybody baked and cooked, how we stopped smoking and made our own bread and beer, how there were no planes flying overhead, how few cars on the roads and how quiet the world around us suddenly became. How we read the papers all the time wanting to find out what was happening elsewhere. We will talk about wearing masks, children learning from home, meetings on Zoom, the games we played, the books we read and the movies we saw. We will remember how we found new things to talk and laugh about, how we missed our friends and how we found solace in simple things and comfort in winter fires and music and just being together at home with nothing much to do.
Now we will count to twelve and we will all keep still.
For once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.
It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.
Fisherman in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.
Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.
If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.
Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.
– Pablo Neruda
But, while we are all shaken by the disruption of our normality the world has not come to an end. Even when nothing was happening, something was happening – a difficult fact for the human-animal to fathom. Nature did not blink an eye, did not miss a beat and winter happily cusped into the most beautiful spring we could ever wish for.
May 2021 be peaceful and carefree and happy. May we all be set free again and may we not forget to spare a thought or prayer for those who suffered more and greater losses and not get too busy and ardently caught up in productivity that we forget to lend a helping hand.
If you can fall in love again and again, if you can forgive your parents for the crime of bringing you into the world, if you are content to get nowhere, just take each day as it comes, if you can forgive as well as forget, if you can keep from growing sour, surly, bitter and cynical, man you’ve got it half licked.
– Arthur Miller
Merry Christmas and God bless.