Given the many things the pandemic has robbed us of, it seems petty to complain that it has robbed us of Happy New Year feelings. Of course, you know 1 January is not really different from any other day and you want to mock those who make new year resolutions. You know all that. But the older you are, the chances you get at new beginnings, or even feeling like it’s a new beginning, become fewer and fewer.
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I am always keeping an eye out for people doing radically new things with their lives. As resistant to change as I am, I can only just gaze with admiration at a woman in her 30s who moved into a hostel full of 18-year-olds to do her PhD with focus and frugality. Or someone who was frightened by water all his life and then was convinced by his champion swimmer girlfriend to learn to swim and then became a full-time swimming instructor. People who fall in love in their 60s. People who get divorced in their 50s. People who message me for a therapist’s number and actually make an appointment. People who have faced death and violence and wrenching loss and then somehow figured how to live these new lives. I carry these people around in my head like talismans and tell myself not to be scared of change. For someone like me, the seismic shifts of the pandemic combined with the dreary sameness of the pandemic is the equivalent of having asked for security and being chucked into prison. Even those of us who just wanted everything to stay the same feel a bone-deep weariness with our unchanging lives as we enter the third year and third wave.
Given all that, some Happy New Year feelings would have been nice. I want to say to the fates, couldn’t you have waited till February before we started shivering like birds in the trees when we hear ambulances when we see messages about who else has tested positive? In February I would have been done with my annual attempt to abjure sugar, spend less time on social media, read more. I would have downloaded an online tracker or made complex notations in a journal furiously at first. And then slowly I would have forgotten about it. The jokes also would have been behind me. By then, I would have been ready for the failed reset and ready for the third wave. A mild wave, a mild wave, a mild wave, I would have been ready to say to myself. Along with the reminder that 10% of a very large number is still a large number. Along with the reminder that what is mild for one person is life-threatening to someone else they breathe past on the street.
Instead, here I am in early January, refusing to meet people and planning whether to go back to waving to my mother from the outside of her house. Here we are deep in a place of “I am too cautious or I am too reckless”. A place of idiotic closed gates cancelled trains and travel bans and political rallies and lack of vaccines. Some of my most careful friends have crossed over into a place of despairing recklessness, giving up on masks and every other commonplace precaution. What is the point, they ask. What is the point?
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What is the point was the covert and often overt message in every new year greeting I got this year. (Hopefully) happy new year, said someone on the phone, laughing at herself. Perhaps it will be a happy new year, she said. Other people dived straight into the nihilism pool of memes. On the second day of the year, I acknowledged to myself that I felt cheated. Like I had slept through my birthday.
New Year’s and birthdays are nice pauses in the carousel—a chance to mute the clanging music, rest your head on that wooden horse’s neck and ask yourself, what is the point? And if this is the point, is it a good point? Is it time to leave your lover? Is it time to learn to swim? Is it time to remind yourself of the perfectly valid reasons you took your horrendous job and make your peace with it again?
I don’t know whether you feel cheated too or whether you have no time for this nonsense while you are finding a way to ride the third wave safely or you are floating on your back in the despair pool, saying, “Whatever.” In any case, I urge you to join me in picking another day this year to be the Happy New Year. A do-over. Let us pick a day and I will wish you and you can say “same to you, same to you, same to you”.
Nisha Susan is the editor of the webzine The Ladies Finger and author of The Women Who Forgot To Invent Facebook And Other Stories.