With each new year comes a crop of familiar resolutions: Exercise more and eat less. Spend less time in front of the TV and more time with your friends. Travel more, and really see the world.
The last cruel trick of the year 2020 was to upend our traditional hopes for the new year. Those of us working from home in sweatpants know better than to put “lose 20 pounds” at the top of our 2021 resolutions. Movie theaters, stages and concert venues have been replaced by the television, laptop and smartphone. As for traveling or spending time with friends and relatives, that’s not just ill-advised, it’s life-threatening.
In many ways, 2020 will be with us deep into 2021, the way last March seemed to stretch into September. Nothing about the crisis we are facing changed on Jan. 1. As of New Year's Eve, the United States reported 19.8 million COVID-19 cases and a staggering 343,000 deaths. Massachusetts saw 368,000 cases and 12,338 deaths, a number roughly equal to the population of Ipswich.
Back in the spring, we thought a few months of buckling down would put the virus to rout. Only now are we beginning to understand the sacrifices we will have to make deep into the new year.
So the same old resolutions won’t do. Let’s consider a new batch for 2021:
Ask more of our elected leaders. The Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus outbreak both deepened and lengthened the pandemic in the United States, leading to tens of thousands of needless deaths and hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations. The president’s inattention, missteps and outright lies are too numerous to list. But he had plenty of help from governors, congressmen and senators willing to defy medical advice and delay desperately needed unemployment aid and stimulus checks as political sport. Voters need to remember that.
In Massachusetts, the pandemic has deepened a decades-long affordable housing crisis, and more out-of-work or financially struggling residents are being faced with eviction notices. State courts have received more than 2,000 rent-related residential eviction filings since the middle of October, when Gov. Charlie Baker lifted the state’s COVID-19 eviction ban. Foot-dragging on affordable housing legislation at the state level and NIMBYism on many local city councils and town boards have helped lead us to where we are now. We must expect better from those we put into office.
Be grateful for the “bureaucrats.” It has become a trope to criticize those working for the government as somehow taking advantage of taxpayers. But it has been those same bureaucrats that have helped hold the country together during the pandemic, be it the city and town public health workers providing contact tracing or the IT departments making sure citizens can tune in to city council and school committee meetings via Zoom. We never truly appreciated the U.S. Postal Service until the Trump administration ran roughshod over the agency, sidelining veteran managers and slowing service to a crawl at the height of the quarantine.
Keep saying thank you. So remember to thank your mail carrier the next time you see him or her. And your kids’ teachers, and the doctors, nurses, grocery store workers, restaurant cooks, delivery drivers — really anyone and everyone you can think of. There was a wave of thankfulness and empathy that washed over us all last spring, but it waned as the year drew to a close and pandemic fatigue set in. We’re all tired but hopefully not so hollowed out that we can’t recognize those who are helping us make it through. Don’t skimp on a kind word.
Shop local. Yes, it’s exciting to hear that Amazon package land on your doorstep. But it will be even more exciting to have a vibrant downtown to return to once the pandemic has abated. Keeping your money local makes that happen.
Help your neighbors. The pandemic has deepened the food security crisis in Massachusetts. Since March, 1 in 8 people – and 1 in 5 children – have reported facing hunger. If there was ever a time to donate generously to your local food pantry, it is now.
Have hope, and trust science. The path to beating COVID-19 is clear. The vaccine is on the way. When it’s available to you, take it. You’ll protect yourself and your loved ones. Until then, wear a mask when in public. Socially distance. Resist the urge to gather with family and friends. Be patient, and cut yourself some slack about those 20 pounds. That’s a goal for 2022.