In this space a year ago, I admitted to a pessimistic feeling about 2020. If President Trump loses an election that will be “the ugliest of our lifetimes,” I said, he will “denounce the results as a fraudulent coup” and refuse to accept them. This forecast required no prescience: Donald Trump has cried “fraud” after every election whose results he didn’t like, including the 2016 Iowa primary that he insisted should be “nullified” because Ted Cruz had “stolen” it. But while an election fiasco was utterly predictable, my crystal ball failed to foresee the defining catastrophe of the coming year. At this time last December, a virus was silently jumping from person to person in Wuhan, China, and would soon radically transform every one of our lives.
“Never make predictions,” the great sage Casey Stengel reminded us, “especially about the future.” Still, there is reason for cautious optimism for 2021. Democracy has survived, although with open wounds which will not quickly heal. Vaccination has begun after less than a year of development and testing—a nearly miraculous achievement. Life may return to a semblance of normal by summer; how incredibly sweet it will be to gather again with family, friends, and co-workers. Even now, with that rebirth too far away and our terrible losses still mounting, we can find a space for gratitude. The list of people who’ve earned it is long: The brilliant scientists who made the vaccines possible. The doctors, nurses, and other health-care workers who’ve defied their exhaustion, fear, and heartbreak to save lives and comfort the dying. The post office workers, delivery people, teachers, meat-packers, farmworkers, cops, EMTs, supermarket cashiers, cooks, and other frontline workers who’ve risked their lives to keep us fed and supplied and the country functioning. It’s been a truly horrible year, with one painful blow after another. But we’re still standing, so let’s give ourselves a round of applause.