Your family has been hard to love of late.
I wrote to your younger sibling, 2020, in her infancy – when she was only a few days old. I made wishes for her. And, almost as soon as I had written, I felt ashamed at the presumptive folly of my wish-making. Yet here I am again. Full of hope.
Back in 2020, following a poet’s lead [Philip Larkin: ‘Born Yesterday’), I wished your sister dull. I wished 2020 the blessing of being ordinary; for her to be about the gradual spreading of ordinary happiness. I had in mind the steadiness of contentment, rather than the mercurial fireworks of ecstatic highs.
We all know that 2020 was anything but dull. And contentment a rare thing. Yet, contentment for all sentient beings must surely be the worthy (if unreachable) endpoint for our biggest hopes.
My own hopeful thoughts – always infinitesimally tiny in the noisy ocean of possibilities ahead – evaporated as soon as they were voiced. Hopes are ethereal. Yet they persist.
And I can’t help but have high hopes for you, 2022.
No-one could call a pandemic dull or ordinary. As well as craving safety, shelter, wellbeing; our species sought certainty, direction, leadership; and we hoped for normality. 2020 gave us little, and her sibling 2021 less. Lockdowns, limitations and restrictions carried their share of dull. But these years have been full of extremes. And they have taken so many on earth to the darkest of places and beyond. The despair, the suffering, the confusion of 2020 extended into 2021, joined by a stark sense of inequity across and within nations. Gaps opened further between regions where vaccination programmes surged into life and those where people were left exposed. The images remain; the suffering continues.
It is really not my place to comment, from the privileged comfort of my protected patch of the world. Human beings across the globe have felt the awful power of this virus. In many ways, this reality calls for the absence of words: sombre, shared silence is the only authentic response. Words are hollow bubbles.
And yet, like thoughts – like hope – like bubbles, indeed – words float up again out of the silence.
2020 and 2021 were very, very rough for so many, and in so many ways. This fact colours everything.
But, there have been positives. Shared hardship elicits waves of compassion. Fellow-feeling flows from the levelling effect of a common threat. The extraordinary kindness and devotion of so many individuals and organisations, to good causes, to the protection of others. These are incalculable, potentially paradigm-changing pluses. We could become more caring, more empathetic, more kind through all this.
The collective force of human ingenuity has saved millions of lives, enabled continuity, and opened new possibilities. Our thirst for equity has been sharpened: calls for social justice have been voiced more passionately; heard more clearly; actioned more purposefully. Our duties to the natural world have never been more prominent, nor more urgent; lockdowns have caused the small shoots of regeneration; big (though perhaps not big enough) environmental pledges have been made.
Is there a more urgent desire to make the world a better place; to emerge together to a fairer post-pandemic world. Is that to be your thing, 2022?
So, 2022, I wish you kind. Kinder than your forebears. And, from time to time, a bit of dull wouldn’t go amiss.