The Year That Was, 2021, is slugging its way to a close. The new year has not yet arrived but it seems as if everyone I know is eager to step over the border into 2022.
I understand. This has been some kind of year. We discovered that, if you really want to die of COVID, you need to avoid the vaccine. Unbelievably, people did that. By the tens of thousands. Really. About the time we thought we understood the Delta variant of COVID, we were treated to a new variant and a new word: omicron.
A bunch of missionaries who’d been kidnapped by a gang were set free in Haiti; meanwhile, America remains a hostage to President Joe Manchin.
We opened the year with what’s become known as “January 6” — a day so fraught we need only be reminded of the date. A few right-wing politicians described the riot and murders as a tourist stop (who votes for these people?). The year will close, it appears, with the unhappy prospect of more incredibly heroic healthcare workers slumping at day’s end while others of us whine about masks, super-spreader sports venues and inscrutable COVID guidelines. The pandemic is beginning to feel eternal.
All this is true. But it’s also true that I’m not among the crowd of good folks who have let it be known they can’t wait for 2021 to end. They believe 2022 will be better — this, despite forecasts of lower rates of high school graduations and minority voters with higher rates of infection and inflation. Despite it all, I have friends who want out of 2021.
For myself, I’m in no particular hurry to leave 2021. I’ve not enjoyed the crises and quarantines, and I deeply regret calamities like the death and destruction wrought by tornadoes that raked Kentucky, my State of birth. But 2021 was not all bad. I can count the reasons for being grateful while waiting for my morning coffee to cool. (And, yes, I’m grateful for my morning coffee.)
This was the year when my highlight moments were spent playing with a granddaughter who will, next year, be joined by my first grandson. Grandparents and grandchildren are bound by a joy that knows no bounds, an affection that produces a quiet gratitude I’ve never known before. She is enough to fill a year with gratitude. And there was more.
I’m grateful that if I accidentally stumble into a news broadcast, the first word I hear is rarely “Trump.” And when I see Mr. Biden, I’m grateful for his integrity and compassion.
I’m grateful for vaccines. I’m grateful for surprising kindness. I’m grateful for hope, when I have it.
I’m hugely grateful for Tony Fauci. He’s taught us science and, more, he’s taught us what integrity and courage look like. He didn’t flinch when brutes made death threats against him and his family. He stayed steady, honest, gracious. Thank you, Tony!
I’m grateful for my cousin and physician, Mike, who knows about illness and health, pharmaceuticals and my mother’s love of bawdy jokes. He adored her, and she him.
I’m grateful to have friends I love and trust, colleagues who share my values and my hopes, and resources in such abundance that I can share some with others.
I’m grateful to men and women who hold high office and hold it with dignity, honesty and vision — despite near-lethal attacks. I wonder how they do it but I’m grateful they do.
I suppose the punchline is this: I’m grateful to be here, on earth, alive. Thirty years ago I was given a death sentence (AIDS). A half-dozen years later, as I was weakening, I was lifted up by an antiretroviral cocktail. I survived alongside friends like Larry Kramer in America and hundreds of incredible women I met in Africa. Even today, AIDS knows no cure. But I’m here, mourning those we lost, grateful for what they offered while with us.
When cancer hit ten years ago, surgeons went to work. Now in my seventies, I sometimes miss what they took from me and I’m still grateful for what they gave to me: my life. These years. Time to meet my grandchildren.
So 2021 wasn’t perfect by a long sight. How could any year that begins with a deadly coup against democracy be good? The answer lies in the reality that you and I have survived the pandemic, the violence, the opioids, the lonesomeness, the gravely warming earth and those Republicans who admire treason. There’s plenty to grieve. And we can be grateful anyway.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to try again, to do our best, to breathe a word of thanks for what was, and is, good about our lives even in a pretty hard year.
I’m grateful for you in my life.