Looking To Twenty-One

We’re in the final hour, if I’ve timed this right, of the most memorable, awful, scary, weird, frustrating, infuriating year of our lives. Midnight absolutely can’t get here soon enough.

Springsteen warns about that kind of thinking, about rooting on tomorrow to come while missing out on today:

My soul checked out missing as I sat listening
To the hours and minutes tickin’ away
Just sittin’ around waitin’ for my life to begin
While it was all just slippin’ away

When he wrote “Better Days,” though, Springsteen wasn’t living through a pandemic. I’m telling you, if someone had offered at the time, I might have given away these last six months to get to 2021 just a little more quickly. And I don’t think I’d have been alone.

***

On New Years Eve in 1982, I lolled around in a car while my brother tooled down Kalanianaole Highway, near Waimanolo on the windward side of the island of Oahu, taking in the beauty of a moonlit Hawaii night and wondering how in the heck I got there. A year later on New Years Eve, I stood in the open-air lobby of a hotel on Tumon Bay, on the island of Guam, wondering what the heck I’d gotten myself into. Two years after that, to the day, I looked out from the balcony of a hotel room in downtown Pensacola, Florida, thinking pretty much the same thing.

I spent a New Years Eve on assignment once, back in Tempe, Arizona, watching a big tortilla chip (or a decent-enough facsimile) dip into a big bowl of salsa to mark the coming year. I was on assignment in New Orleans for another New Years. I somehow don’t remember much of that.

Before kid, Mary Jo and I would bundle up for a night on the town in Cincinnati, spending the evening dancing at a fancy downtown hotel, waiting for the champagne and balloons, a midnight kiss, and the promise of a new year.

These days, as happens, things are much slower on New Years Eve. This year has been the slowest. But that promise of a new year never has been more alluring.

This year, it’s never been more important.

***

Let’s say this for 2020: It’ll be unforgettable. In all the worst, most painful ways, what we have endured since the middle of March will be stamped on our foreheads forever.

No use reciting it here. Nobody needs that. Just think the worst. Then think about being trapped inside while the worst rages outside. That was ’20.

As horrible as it has been, though, the promise of a new year, as always, shines through. And in the worst of ’20, in the darkest of it — near midnight now on New Years Eve — the new year shines even brighter.

I’m looking forward to a vaccine, already slowly rolling out, that will put the pandemic of 2020 behind us, let’s hope, by mid year. I’m looking forward to venturing out to see family, hugging them, and gathering around a dinner table without the fear of sickening or killing each other.

I’m looking forward to being — just being — with others, too, and maybe meeting some new people. In person. Not in a Brady Bunch-like collage on my computer screen.

I’m looking forward to a cooling political climate — a man can hope, right? — where masks don’t separate us, where health for all is a goal for all, where we can discuss our differences without hatred and bitterness and pettiness, accept what separates us without judgment, and celebrate instead what we all have in common.

I’m looking — hoping, positively jonesing — for a good meal, soon, in a noisy restaurant (sure, I’ll put our name down on the waitlist; it’s a beautiful night), served by a smiling and overeager waitperson and followed by a stroll downtown where I don’t have to veer 6 feet away from another couple walking off their meal.

Gio’s Chicken Amalfitano in Atlanta, just off the Tech campus, January 2020

I can’t wait to fight through a screen at our regular pickup games — I haven’t given up on them, even through all this — and not worrying about the sweaty guy setting the pick or the big guys panting in the lane or the soreness in my knees. I’ll be thankful that the soreness is there and my jumper has not yet fallen forever short. Hopefully.

I am looking so forward to standing with my brothers on the first tee at a pristine course on Pawleys Island, maybe in late spring, breathing in the fresh air while basking in the warm sun, the faint possibility of a birdie, and the certainty of an unending amount of trash talk that only brothers can give.

I want to go places with my wife. Maybe a real vacation somewhere, to see something breathtaking, someplace where you don’t have to hold your breath. I’d like us to get on a plane — ! — to see the boy when he’s back in San Diego, wander around his new town, go to the beach there, eat al fresco, say “Hi” without worry to a few people, maybe bump elbows with new friends (since shaking hands might still be too much to ask).

In 2021, at some point, I want to add my voice to the roar of a crowd, even a small one.

I’d like to ditch that bottle of hand sanitizer in the car. Throw out all those masks. Stop stressing on the scary stats.

For my new year’s resolution this year, I’m keeping things simple. Forget learning to play the guitar or teaching myself Spanish. Forget, for now, finding a new place to live. Forget eating healthier. Forget the love handles.

In 2021, given the chance, I aim to do all the simple things that I didn’t get to do in ’20. That’s all. The simple things that we all missed out on.

Those will be better days.

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