By Jack Canfora
It’s sooo on brand for 2020 that it’s a Leap Year. No, no, 365 days weren’t enough for this Annus Horribilis (and yes, you’d better believe I triple checked the spelling on that first word): it was so overflowing with awfulness, so teeming with terribleness, so rife with wretchedness, it needed an extra day to pack all of its surfeit of suffering in.
So, although most of us haven’t thought about it, as we slog towards 2020’s finish line, the truth is that line is a full 24 hours away further than it normally would be.
So what, you no doubt think. It’s just a day; it’s not like everything will magically be better on January 1st. You’re right of course. It won’t (nothing is better in January. Sorry people with January birthdays). But symbols are important in life (maybe too much so for writers, but let’s gloss over that for now). 2021, whose first few months promise to be quite bleak indeed, still affords us the chance to unchain ourselves from the shackles of these past 12 months that have weighed us down, Jacob Marley-like, link by odious link. Here’s just a few of those links that have, one by one, hung so heavilyy on our shoulders:
- You’ve finished Netflix. I don’t mean you’ve gotten bored or fed up with it. You’ve actually finished it. All the baking shows, all the sitcoms, all the Scandinavian detective series, all the documentaries. You’re done. You hit the Home button and it merely says, “Oh my God, what more do you want from us?”
- You’ve developed a deep bond with a certain cohort: you’ve had your ups and downs, your misunderstandings, your moments of healing and bonding. I’m talking of course, about the hosts of nightly cable news shows.
- Pornography disgusts you: not because it’s misogynistic, exploitative, and warps our perceptions of intimacy and sexuality, but because they’re not wearing masks.
But to hell with it. Let 2020 have its extra day. It’s in February, and if anything, February sucks even more than January (two words: Valentine’s Day). And yes, when we finally cross that threshold into 2021 on the stroke of midnight (one good thing to come out of this pandemic: the unwatchable Times Square New Year’s Eve television extravaganzas will be totally changed. Who am I kidding? They’ll find a way to make it suck, anyway) we can take a deep socially distanced, mask filtered breath . Hope, I truly believe, is on the way.
The holidays will feel very different this year. And mostly not in a good way. But here’s what I recommend. Watch It’s A Wonderful Life. I know, you’ve probably seen it umpteen times, and maybe you’re generally done with it. But although it’s often dismissed by cynics as sappy, it really isn’t. In fact, for a key portion of it, it’s surprisingly dark. We see a man who sees his life as nothing but a string of failures. He feels he’s hopeless. He literally wishes he was never born. But by the end, he learns that all of his grandiose dreams that failed to materialize don’t really matter nearly as much as what he’s done for those around him. It is a film that points out that it’s the small acts of kindness and empathy that matter most in life. That serving one’s community, however one defines it, is noblest of ways to expend one’s energies. That a sense of and responsibility to our communities, both immediate and larger, is how we get along in this world.
In a way, 2020 robbed us of our sense of community: time with our friends and family, the rubbing elbows with our neighbors and peers. But in a deeper sense, it’s given us a chance to reevaluate our priorities and sense of what constitutes our community, and where we fit in it. What we contribute to it, and how it enriches the quality of our lives. That’s why I think It’s A Wonderful Life will resonate even more with me (yes, I’ll be crying at the end. I’m not a monster). I hope we can, in the midst of reviling this past year, recommit ourselves to the painful lessons it’s taught us.
If we don’t or can’t won’t, to paraphrase another well-known Christmas tale: God save us, everyone.
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