It could have been worse, you know.
What am I talking about? 2020? That meal you burned? The dog's deadly toots? The disorder, the dismay, the disappearance of the things we took for granted?
Yes. All of it.
For most of us, it could have been worse. For those who saw the worst year ever, there was still room for additional misfortune. So there are two ways of looking at it:
What 2020 didn't wreck, 2021 will finish.
What 2020 despoiled, 2021 will fix.
Depends on your perspective, of course. Glass-half-full or glass-in-shards-on-the-tile-floor.
What's certain is that the tick of the clock on Jan. 1 solves nothing. It never did.
I googled "What was good about 2020?" expecting the browser to go dark and be replaced by the words ARE YOU KIDDING ME? but one of the first results was "Wonder Chicken Discovered."
Turns out Australian archaeologists unearthed a 66 million-year-old chicken, and dubbed it the "Wonder Chicken" because it looked like a duck on its back half. Front part was all chicken, though. This provided new information for scientists, so we can learn how partial chickens became entirely chicken.
So what, you may sigh. With all that happened, we're supposed to dance a merry gavotte because some diggers found a proto-clucker with a duck caboose?
Well, here's another positive development. Private space programs sent up rockets that landed like the spaceships in 1950s movies, on a column of fire with legs extended. OK, a few blew up. (Hey, you can't make an omelet without getting yolk and shell fragments all over the kitchen walls.) But we have a madman billionaire who wants to go to Mars, and my money's on him.
JFK may have said we choose to go to the moon not because it is easy, but because it is hard. Elon Musk says we will go to Mars not because it's easy, but because it's cool.
And it is! This is what humans do. We put little robots on other planets to drive around, or land them on asteroids where they pick up rocks and take them back to Earth, and we do it for the same reason we dig in Australia looking for ancient chickens. We are relentlessly curious.
Granted, you say. Some people are relentlessly curious about where their next paycheck is coming from, because their restaurant shut down. True. But it's going to get better. Smart people made something you can put in your arm, and it won't just protect from the stupid soulless organism that laid low the land, it'll protect against fear: fear of other places. Fear of other people.
What about fear of aliens, though? Good question. This was the year the military seemed to say, "You know, those UFO things? We're not bothering with cover stories anymore." They released films of incredible crafts doing astonishing things, and more or less said, "Heck if we know. Maybe aliens."
If ever there was a year to let it slip that UFOs were real, 2020 was it.
Ah, you say. True, but abstract. Think of all the things we lost. What of them? Proud faith in human ingenuity won't bring back my corner cafe.
Given a choice between a bustling safe city with stores and restaurants and knowing we weren't alone in the universe, most people will take the latter. Besides, what if the aliens are here for organ harvesting? What if all those UFOs are just DoorDash dudes filling orders?
Got it. But remember how you felt a year ago? "I'd like to try out that restaurant. Haven't been to the movies in a while, but maybe I'll go see that one everyone's talking about. Sure, I'd fly somewhere for a vacation if the price is right."
And how did that go, before COVID? We ordered a pizza, streamed the movie and work got busy so we didn't go anywhere on vacation.
How might that go next year? "I don't care if that place serves greasy gopher guts, I'm going the first day after I get the vaccine all-clear. I can't wait to sit in a big theater and see a movie on a big screen, knowing it cannot be stopped because I got a text or needed to use the loo. I don't care where the plane goes, I just want to feel that moment when you lift off the ground and soar into the clouds."
I expect early 2021 will be more like 2002, because a glum disaster-mode has been baked into our national discourse and it will take time to bleed out. I expect relief and an impatient urge to get back to normal will be more prominent than gratitude. I expect we will still argue about the old things, and, being the ingenious species we are, we'll find new things to dispute.
But I also expect that we'll all meet again at the State Fair at summer's end, and it will be as if nothing happened. Except we will all know that something did.
Deep-fried Wonder Chicken on a Stick. I've never tried it, you'll think. And then: how I missed it.
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