Well, 2021 has arrived and, though I may be a week late, it’s still my first column of the new year, so here goes:
“Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind. Should old acquaintance be forgot, and auld lang syne?”
That traditional old song, and it is old, was played or sung at many a New Year’s Eve gathering last week, but I’ve often wondered, what does “auld lang syne” even mean?
After doing a little research, I discovered it dates back to 1788 and was written by a Scottish poet, Robert Burns. From its Scottish beginnings, the poem turned into a song and later became popular around the world to celebrate the beginning of a new year. Its melancholic words and music bring up memories of past relationships and experiences. In fact, the phrase “auld lang syne” means, basically, “days gone by.”
And hey, when it comes to the days gone by of 2020, I’d like to add a couple of words to that old Scottish diddy: “Good riddance!”
2020, the year that was, is gone. Whew! If ever turned it into a movie, it’ll have to be like one of those disaster movies so popular back in the 1970s. Dare we even take a look back at the year? (Shudder.)
This time a year ago, we were hearing the first inklings of a deadly novel coronavirus originating in China, a virus that just might be making its way across the Pacific to American shores. And oh, did it ever.
COVID-19 defined 2020, changing the way we live. Phrases like “social distancing” and “contactless delivery” became part of our national lexicon.
Millions of Americans, choosing to ignore the advice of medical experts, threw good sense to the wind, celebrating year-end holidays as if the threat of spreading the virus was not even there. Beginning at Thanksgiving, we filled airports and airliners, unknowingly spreading the virus as we headed for our destinations. And, if they didn’t have the virus upon departure, who knows, they may have brought an unwelcome “stowaway” with them on the flight home.
Their travels, most likely, contributed to a Thanksgiving surge of the virus, later compounded by a Christmas surge. And now, infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci suggests we may be facing a dark January thanks to a New Year’s Eve surge from the celebrations that took place last week. The good news is a vaccine is working its way to millions of us, but too slowly, I’m sad to say. We shouldn’t make the mistake of pretending the virus is not still with us as it continues to make us sick while claiming thousands more lives daily.
2020 was also the year for the kind of civil unrest our country hadn’t seen since the 1960s, born out of the death of Minneapolis resident George Floyd. There was no excuse for any of it, but it’s ironic that the violence on America’s streets more than 50 years later can be traced back to the systemic (and often denied) racism that plagued our country then and now. Just as in the summer of 1968, the summer of 2020 found many of us glued to our televisions, watching as one American city after another exploded (almost literally) in acts of violence.
By summer’s end, we were struggling with the coronavirus and dealing with violence in our largest cities. But the year wasn’t done with us yet. Before moving on, I’m betting many of us forgot that 2020 also brought us an impeachment trial. You can be forgiven if it slipped your mind. Any other year, a presidential impeachment would have been the year’s top news story but, oh no, this was 2020.
In case you forgot, the U.S. House of Representatives voted in December 2019 to impeach President Donald Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The Democrats had raised concerns about Trump’s alleged attempts at seeking foreign interference in his bid for re-election. After both impeachment articles were approved in the House, the case moved on to the Senate where, on Feb. 5, Trump was acquitted of the charges. To no one’s surprise, the vote fell largely along party lines.
It goes to show you what a messed-up year we had when a presidential impeachment is relegated to being only a sidebar in how the history books will remember 2020. Now, duck! Here comes the presidential election.
The battle between President Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden opened up some of the deepest political divisions most of us have seen in our lifetimes. Inauguration Day is less than two weeks away and yet, as of this writing, Donald Trump has not conceded. And, of course, he never will. It’s the election that refuses to end, in which Trump believes a, ahem, landslide victory was “stolen” from him.
And that brings us back here … to the first week of 2021.
I wish it were as easy as erasing a drawing on one of those old Etch-a-Sketch toys, remember them? After dialing the little knobs to sketch your creation, all you had to do was shake-shake-shake and, like magic, the slate was wiped clean and you could start all over.
So, America, what are we going to do with our clean slate?
I’m sorry to say, many of the problems we suffered through in 2020 have hitched a ride with us into 2021. Coronavirus is still here; so is the societal sludge that is racism. And, oh yeah, about that presidential election, it may take us years, if not decades, to recover from the damage it’s done to our political system.
The Pollyanna in me is not giving up on things getting better though. I’m one of those old-fashioned Americans who still believes ours is the greatest country in the world. We’ve overcome greater challenges, and my money is on us beating these, too.
And, before I go, help me out with this one, America.
Can we begin with whipping this nasty COVID-19 virus? I mean, really, speaking of days gone by, I sure do miss hugs!
Happy New Year.
Elijah Jones is a proud Hattiesburg native who enjoys writing. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.