2021 in review

Did anyone else feel like 2020 was a big, ominously wet, downright stinky blanket that landed on our lives and smothered the sparks that otherwise would have turned into “I did this cool thing” stories? I’d have to catch myself before asking friends “So, what’s new?” because nothing was ever new. It was always “Oh, y’know, same old same old, just trying not to die or kill anyone by breathing” which isn’t much fun. Then in 2021, the blanket just got stinkier and heavier, and if the person I was talking to wasn’t a book reader, I had no idea what to talk about anymore.

Except that’s not quite true. A year ago, Romania wasn’t even on my radar. I passively assumed it was just another country, probably something to see there, if I ever passed through on my way to somewhere flashier. Now I know better, and that expansion of my mental map carried a huge surprise for me. I’ve often dreamed of creating my own tour, but in 2021 I finally did.

But beyond my personal plans, 2021 brought massive change to the pandemic damper that hit us in 2020. We didn’t scrap covid (I doubt we ever will), but the rollout of vaccines and boosters brought many of us forward into a different space. Now, when considering travel plans, my worries are more about quarantine expenses, finding overseas test sites, and cancelled flights. Outside of particularly vulnerable loved ones, these questions are fundamentally self-oriented, and focused on comfort and convenience more than survival. They’re basically about logistics. Which has always been part of travel. To be able to go back to worrying about logistics, instead of life & death, is a massive, massive step forward.

Omicron is definitely a shock to the fear-response system. These case numbers are enough to make me want to hide under the bed. After I pile it high with 6,000 N95 masks. And surround it with a moat of hand sanitizer. But luckily the historians and medical experts among us are able to show us that the Omicron variant may actually be the best possible scenario. Personally, and just between you and me, if this variant underscores the importance of full vaccination, opens up travel to those of us who have that, but keeps the hordes home? I am just fine with that.

By the end of 2020, I had oceans of gratitude for the medical professionals who were on the front lines of the pandemic. In 2021 I have added further such oceans for the scientists who developed the vaccines that are reconnecting us with the world outside our shelters. I feel mountains of compassion and grief for those who have lost loved ones to this thing, plus comprehension and support for those who still feel unsafe venturing out. There is no patience whatsoever left for propagators of vaccine misinformation. And I feel a vivid battlefield camaraderie for all of us after living under the weight of a pandemic for these two years.

It’s tempting to write off 2021 as a loss, but I don’t think it is. I think many of us have had our perspectives cleaned, clarified, and brightened by the surrounding darkness. And I am excited to move into 2022.

(And if you’d like to join me in my tradition of looking at year-end positive news roundups, I recommend this one.)

(The positive news list is a great read, and I don’t just say that because I stole this photo from them)