To start with the obvious: this year was better than last year, mostly because coming out of deadly, mismanaged pandemic is better that going into one.
I don’t want this review of the past year to get bogged down with schadenfreude, such as Trump’s ongoing criminal proceedings but it helped. The arc of justice blah blah blah.
Nor do I want to relive the horrific Iowa legislative session with its rightward push to move public dollars to private schools and reinstating the death penalty by folks who identify as pro-life.
So moving on.
The first half of the year was very much 2020 2.0: excessive death caused by denial, entitlement and exceptionalism.
But by summer that changed. Fewer dying people (good!), but with understandable pandemic fatigue, FOMO was on the rise.
If 2020 was the year of the introverts, 2021 was the year of fighting off the extroverts.
And so, after my much-anticipated second vaccine dose, I was lured out by friends to enjoy my first meal at a restaurant in more than a year.
Well, enjoyed is too strong of a word.
I still insisted we eat outside, still felt uncomfortable and wasn’t sure if I would feel better or worse if all the plexiglass partitions were still up.
Any remaining novelty of eating out wore off quickly as I immediately got annoyed when our waiter moved my used knife and fork off my plate and to the table when they cleared the first course. Eating every meal at home wasn’t so bad.
I realized that in-person everything was overrated. Live music was too loud. Movie theaters didn’t pause for bathroom breaks. Stores didn’t have a button I could use to immediately summon help or find exactly what I was looking for. Clearly my 16 months of avoiding most people had changed me. Or at least changed my priorities.
But everyone else everywhere wanted to do everything in person. Meetings that had rightfully become emails or phone calls were, again, meetings. Everyone wanted to host a cocktail hour, lunch-and-learn or some sort of celebration. If it wasn’t celebrating this year’s birthday (Wait, we’re still eating cake after someone has blown all over it? Have we learned nothing?), it was re-celebrating last year’s missed anniversaries.
Turns out that small talk still sucks, and I’d gotten rusty at faking it. With all of these invites to in-person events, it was clear that many forgot the joy of stepping immediately into and out of events held on the internet. On Zoom I just needed to hold a smile until I’d successfully clicked “Leave Meeting”.
It’s not to say that I wasn’t glad to finally be able to see people in person. Thanksgiving and Christmas, my two favorite secular holidays, were better spent in my parents’ living room than spread across Iowa and Illinois, though I did miss the joy of the low-key aspects of the previous year’s pandemic holidays.
I’ve never been a fan of the pervasive “good riddance to [current year]” — the annual refrain suggests we have no real baseline — but 2021 was only marginally better than the year before, so good riddance.
The photo collage on this post is by Evelyn Bergus