In the End, 2021 Was Like a Bridge to Nowhere

31 Dec

This year was supposed to go a bit differently.

After 2020, when so many of us were home-bound, frustrated by the government’s divisive and unhelpful response to the pandemic, in and out of work, and alone, 2021 was supposed to be the year things got back on track. We had a new President, vaccines were becoming available, and change was coming. Better days were ahead. “Normal” was going to make a comeback.

So I always looked at 2021 like a “bridge year,” one that would take us from the doom and gloom of the pandemic to the new new normal. This year was all about crossing that bridge to get to the other side. Accepting things for now because I knew they’d be temporary. That things would be better and more desirable on the other side, by the end of the year.

In 2021, I had so much I wanted to do. I was going to make up for lost time with friends and family. I was going to work with other people face-to-face again on a regular basis, maybe even (hopefully) in an office. I was going to put my feet back in the dating pool. I was going to go on vacation. I was going to be spontaneous. In short: I was going to live a normal life without having to worry all the time about an easily transmissible airborne virus getting into my body.

And yet, here we are on December 31, and it feels in many ways like we’re back to where we were a year ago. In spite of multiple safe and effective vaccines being widely available, Covid case numbers are not only up again, they are higher than they’ve ever been. We’re being asked to scale back our social lives again and keep taking precautions to keep ourselves and each other safe — even if we’re “fully vaccinated.” And, as if we need a reminder, nearly a year after the attack on the Capitol, our political climate is more divided than ever.

If 2021 was a bridge year, it feels like it was a bridge that just kept on going and going, with no end in sight, kind of year. 

Sigh. 

Of course, things did get better in 2021, and we did move forward. Like many others, I became fully vaccinated in the early spring, mask mandates in the Boston area (and elsewhere) were lifted around Memorial Day Weekend, and in early summer, I started to reclaim some of the time I was spending inside, by myself, working. I saw family and friends offline, I traveled to Florida and New York City, I went to the movies, I saw a show on Broadway (Bruce Springsteen!), I ate in restaurants, and I didn’t actively worry about getting infected. It may not have been the Hot Vax Summer we were promised and that I was hoping for, but it was a heck of a lot better than the way things had been. (At least I wasn’t down bad.)

Unfortunately, it didn’t last and that momentum got pulled away from us like Lucy with the football. By the end of August, the Delta variant had us putting our masks back on and playing it safe again. And now we have Delta and Omicron. Don’t blame Agatha; it’s the fault of the millions of people digging in their heels about not getting vaccinated, who also refuse to wear a mask, and those who continue to knowingly spout misinformation, that Covid has been able to keep spreading and mutating — and those of us who’ve done the right thing all along are still suffering the consequences. Suffice it to say, I’m frustrated and angry that people are actively letting this pandemic continue when it’s preventable. 

Given all that, I’m thankful that I got through 2021 without testing positive for Covid once, and that the same can be said for my immediate family. Granted, in hindsight, I think I may actually have had a breakthrough case in July that I dismissed as a simple cold at the time (maybe I should have taken the lingering cough more seriously). Thanks to the vaccine, it was just that minor, and I didn’t get anyone else sick. As far as I know.

Not that everyone in my family was healthy this year. My dad, whose Parkinson’s Disease continues its predictable trajectory, got worse. Multiple falls led to multiple hospital stays, multiple visits down to Florida, multiple tough conversations about mortality, and a lot of worrying. I remain unsure of what’s worse: being there and seeing what’s going on or being home and not seeing first-hand what’s going on. Either way, it sucks, and I wish I could do more to help and make that situation better. 

In September, when I was visiting, I heard my dad say, “Every day I get another chance.” Even as Covid became an ever-present presence in my life again, I tried to make something of my chances when I could. That meant learning to be comfortable with the fact that I was fully vaccinated, and that my risk of getting sick wasn’t as great as those who weren’t vaccinated. I guess you could say I found a way to live a “normal adjacent” life, masking up or adjusting my plans where and when I had to, as annoying as it continues to be.

I still went to movie theaters and to concerts and shows, and I still ate out at restaurants (though I preferred to sit outside or to go when they wouldn’t be as crowded, if possible). I even went to a Red Sox playoff game at Fenway Park in October … and a couple days after Christmas, I went back to New York City for a very quick visit to finally see Company, which I was supposed to see on my birthday last year. And I tried to be good about not judging those who disregarded local mask mandates, and not letting Covid limit me too much — but it wasn’t easy.

It’s now been almost two years since I last rode the subway. I’m still working from home (my current employer doesn’t even have an office for me to go to). And thanks to Delta and Omicron, and conflicting or confusing guidance from the CDC and others, not to mention all the worrisome news coverage, I stayed home more days and nights this year than I wanted to because it just didn’t feel safe to be out and about. (Or, because I just didn’t have any plans.)

I still miss my old routines. I still miss having a place to go and people to see five days a week. I still miss hanging out with friends in other cities. I still miss making year-end slideshow videos and photo albums. I still miss not worrying about getting sick all the time. I still miss normal.

And I’m exhausted from the emotional whiplash that had me ping-ponging back and forth between feelings of hope, anger, comfort, fear, worry, excitement, resentment, relief, nervousness, contentment, and more all year long.

Yes, there were bright spots over the course of these last 12 months, and reasons to be happy each and every day. Yes, the economy is generally moving in the right direction. And yes, despite the high numbers of cases, and all the complications it’s causing, apparently, the pandemic isn’t as dire a situation today as it was a year ago (assuming you’re vaccinated).

But as 2021 comes to a close, I’m just really disappointed that things aren’t where they should be, and that we aren’t where we expected to be, right now. That we haven’t yet crossed the bridge to a better place and are unable to get our lives back on track. And that many of us, myself included, are still languishing or are head empty.

As Dodai Stewart wrote in the New York Times recently, 2021 was a “Year in Limbo.” Here’s to a new one that’s better, that moves us forward, and that’s not another bridge-to-nowhere kind of year.

Happy New Year!

6 Responses to “In the End, 2021 Was Like a Bridge to Nowhere”

  1. Robin December 31, 2021 at 9:02 am #

    “I remain unsure of what’s worse: being there and seeing what’s going on or being home and not seeing first-hand what’s going on.” This hit home. Hugs.
    Feeling similarly otherwise too despite being such a homebody.
    Happy New Year!

    • Martin Lieberman December 31, 2021 at 9:06 am #

      Unfortunately, I’m sure you can relate. I hope our 2022s aren’t too tough. Happy New Year!

  2. Josh McCormack (@joshmccormack) January 4, 2022 at 11:39 am #

    It’s certainly felt like a confusing period of stasis. Not the solution and all is well again. Not the breaking through and a new tomorrow.

    • Martin Lieberman January 4, 2022 at 11:40 am #

      Maybe this year, things will be better. Hopefully. Happy new year, Josh! Thanks for the comment.

  3. Dr Andrew Albert January 5, 2022 at 12:22 pm #

    I think you expressed exactly how all of us feel. I love your list for 2021. There is one thing on that list that Rachel would not personally look forward to in 2022 but I certainly would. Thank you for sharing these thoughts. I would argue that there are some things on the list that you have done and that is be a better friend to us all! Thank you for that.

    • Martin Lieberman January 5, 2022 at 12:24 pm #

      Right back at you. Here’s to better days in 2022 (hopefully some spent in MC)! Thanks for leaving a comment. 🙂

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