There is an interesting historical curse of debatable origin that says, “May you live in interesting times!” I would propose that this past year would qualify as one of those “interesting times.” I have circled the sun some seventy times during my lifetime, and the year 2021 definitely stands out in terms of stress, issues, challenges and uncertainty.
The COVID pandemic is certainly a major cause of this past year being so memorable, obviously in a non-positive way. Its grievous impact on all aspects of people’s daily lives has thrown societies and nations world-wide out of kilter, and spurred a degree of frustration, unrest and polarization that has aggravated and prolonged the pain and chaos. Worst of all, with new variants appearing on a regular basis, there is no light at the end of the tunnel for the foreseeable future.
In the meantime, travel is severely restricted, a large segment of the workforce is forced to work remotely, supply chains have been severely disrupted, many sectors of the economy and the business world have been crippled, sports and entertainment options have been significantly curtailed, and health and medical systems stressed to the breaking point. As a corollary, governments have been forced to resort to huge deficit spending to deal with the ongoing crisis and its effects.
But COVID is not the only defining feature of a troubled year. The New Year began with an apprehended insurrection that saw rabid Trump supporters in the United States storm the U.S. capitol, trying to overturn the results of a democratically held election. The farce of the Trump Presidency and its continuing toxic aftermath is a shameful blot on American history that has left the country’s reputation and its standing in the civilized world greatly diminished. What is worse is that it has also exposed the fact that a significant proportion of Americans are caught up in a misguided and ill-informed paranoia that ignores facts, science, and rational debate in favour of conspiracy theories, fundamentalist reactionary politics and not-so-subtle racism. Americans have looked in the mirror and as the quote from old cartoon strip Pogo goes – “We have met the enemy and he is us!”
The tarnishing and weakening of the U.S. role as a world leader comes at an inauspicious time in world affairs. Russia, under the deranged leadership of Vladimir Putin, and China, under the inscrutable General Secretary Xi Jinping, are both rattling their sabres and threatening to destabilize their corners of the world. They seem to have missed the lessons from the historical demise of imperialism during the twentieth century and think that they can reconstitute their ancient Empires once again. This has placed countries such as Ukraine in great peril as they struggle to keep their predatory neighbours at bay. The resurgence of other authoritarian right-wing regimes throughout the world is a troublesome sign that international peace and stability cannot be taken for granted.
On the domestic front, most Canadians were both shocked and horrified to learn this past year of the tragic unreported deaths of hundreds, if not thousands of aboriginal children in the now infamous residential school system that was set up and run by the government and major religious denominations over the past century. It has finally brought to light in a dramatic way the abysmal treatment that our first nations have suffered and continue to suffer at the hands of the primarily white, European establishment in Canada. Despite what we as Canadians may have thought in the past, our hands are not cleaner than our American neighbours when it comes to the treatment of our indigenous population.
Amidst all the doom and gloom of this past year, there were fortunately a few glimmers of hope and light, that kept me from becoming too despondent or depressed with what was happening around me. Foremost of these was the birth of a grandson, Maksym.
I had the pleasure and the privilege of spending a significant amount of time with him over the summer and fall, and his very presence, his joyful discoveries about his own abilities and how the immediate world around him works, his unabashed expressions of joy and other emotions, and his blessed unawareness of the troubles and chaos in the outside world, made me realize how miraculous life can be, and that the present is transient and the future full of possibilities.
There will always be challenges and troubles to deal with, but we should always remain confident that we have the intelligence and ability to deal with whatever life throws at us. In another week, 2022 will be upon us, and I will be doing all I can to make it a better year than 2021. To quote Jasper Friendly Bear from the CBC radio show The Dead Dog Café – “Stay calm! Be brave! Wait for the signs!”.