Happy Days Are Here Again?

“Year’s end is neither an end or a beginning but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us”

-Hal Borland

Wednesday morning January 1, 2020.  A bright, shiny new decade lies ahead.  People all over the planet are filled with hope and anticipation in leaving the second decade of the new millennium behind them.  And there is so much to look forward to for me on a personal level.  2020 was going to be the year of exciting milestones for the Ihnkens.  Since early 2019, I had been looking so forward to all our happy upcoming events:  a big milestone birthday celebration for me in March, our only daughter’s high school graduation in June, our 20th wedding anniversary in July, and to wrap it all up, said daughter’s passage into adulthood on her 18th birthday in September- the final highlight in 2020’s string of star-studded events.  There was so much to celebrate, in unison with our many cherished friends and loved ones. It would be a celebratory year to end all celebratory years, and honestly I couldn’t wait for 2020 to start.

Fast forward to this morning January 1, 2021.  Any look back on 2020 will undoubtedly provide chapter after somber chapter for the history books.  The most devastating year in recent history finally saw its last day yesterday, and those of us who did not have a good year (everyone) experienced a masked, socially distanced and heartfelt New Year’s Eve celebration.  All the restraining orders in the world couldn’t have stopped the damage inflicted upon us by that year, a year that for all intents and purposes behaved like an abusively relentless stalker.  There is certainly no need to rehash the many painful events and our collective sadness around them here, because those dramatic media headlines and stark images of tragedy and injustice are visible everywhere we turn on a daily basis.  Its enough to make anyone wonder if there is anywhere left to go from here.

Clearly, the cold reality of 2020 fell far short of the personal expectations I’d developed prior to the onset of the pandemic. Since before the spring of last year, we like most other families around us stayed home nearly every day aside from essential errands and appointments. From our work-from-home desks, my husband and I were very grateful to still have jobs while we witnessed friends and family members be forced to close their businesses as their paychecks disappeared. We felt helpless as we watched our daughter, during what was supposed to be the most exciting year of her entire student life, hole up in her bedroom with no campus to rush off to, no pajama party sleepovers and no date nights to look forward to. Finally she graduated from high school quite anti-climactically by car, as did many other of her peers across the nation. Driving by the school Principal as he extended her diploma through the car window was not at all the poignant end of her childhood years that we had envisioned- but at least there was summer to look forward to and the excitement of college ahead. However as the pandemic dragged on, it soon became very clear that our imagined summer fun would be scarce and the previously anticipated excitement around college would only be experienced from home.

The good news is 2020 is finally over and we can toss that lousy calendar book just like they used to in the old days, right out the downtown office window. The bad news is that a 24 hour date change between the old year and the new one is no miracle worker, and the problems that arose during 2020 are still very much with us. There is undeniably a long road ahead before many of the threats and complex problems the world is dealing with can be eradicated. It’s been a terrible start to the new decade and the worst of 2020 is marching right along into the New Year with us: COVID deaths and spread are still rising, many new college students like our daughter must continue to experience college from home, and there is no end in sight for the current stay-at-home order in California as the disease rages on.

But isn’t it important to recognize that positive things managed to rise out of 2020’s dark and dangerous waters as well?  Many people, thrown off the tired hamster wheel of their routines and onto the slick streets of uncharted territory, woke up sometime during the year to feelings of dissatisfaction with certain aspects of their lives.  Of that, a formerly elusive sense of courage and motivation to affect change was often born.  Others have struggled harder to adjust, some uneasily grappling with and others completely resisting the challenges being forced upon them. For all of society, the need to adapt also brings with it a necessary re-prioritization of the important, and as many folks try to recover from the unexpected shocks of the past 10 months, there is a recognition of the opportunity for positive change that such a dramatic shift can often bring.  

Over the past few days, individuals all over the globe have flipped 2020 their middle fingers and turned their collective backs toward it in favor of tightly embracing all the hope and promise that 2021 potentially brings.  I feel it myself now as I write, hoping that today heralds (for one thing) an end to my recent inability to finish a meaningful piece of writing (as illustrated by my 9 month lapse in posting anything to this blog.)  I see it on social media, where friends and acquaintances alike are expressing their intense relief and strong conviction that better days definitely lie ahead.  In reality though, so much of 2020 has not at all yet ended as we excitedly head into the unknown territory of 2021.  It’s up to each and every one of us to keep this in mind and continue working together to put an end to the devastation of the past year.  Rather than try to leave it behind us, I say let’s bring 2020 and what we’ve learned by living through it along with us into 2021.  At first glance, probably not your preferred way to start the new year, but please think on it a little while. Doing so may actually be the key to a true Happy New Year ahead, in making a meaningful contribution to better days and a happier future for all.

©2021 Lisa Ihnken, All Rights Reserved except photos

3 thoughts on “Happy Days Are Here Again?

  1. Right there with you in looking forward to 2020. 2020 was going to be my year too. 30 years married, turning 60 and retiring from a 35 year teaching career. My son was going to be in a play that never happened. No retirement party no real good byes to my teaching friends and my last class. Trips were planned and then cancelled. Retirement was weird not what I had hoped it would be. Let’s hope 2021 is a healthy year for us all and we can return to some sense of normalcy.


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