It's human nature to put frames around everything, even time, as if each rotation of the Earth around the sun was a discrete occurrence and not just perpetual motion spinning the cycle of seasons around us.
Yet, that's just what we do. As the calendar ticks off its final day, we take stock of what's transpired during the past 365 days – this year it's 366, as if we needed to prolong 2020 any longer than necessary.
Dec. 21 was the winter solstice, the shortest day in one of the darkest years we've experienced in a century.
No, the nation is not at war, though from the body count you might not be able to tell the difference. More than 300,000 dead from a virus that we as a nation failed to control.
The principal reason for that failure got voted out of the White House in November, a clear victory in a year marked with losses, and yet we are all left to watch in a sort of fascinated horror as Donald Trump continues to chip away at the foundations of our democracy in his tantrum of defeat.
No matter. Come Jan. 20, Trump will vacate the White House in disgrace, taking his coterie of toadies with him. Then we get to the hard work of repairing the damage done over the past four years. We're left with a mountain to climb, but we've scaled heights before.
As in those past triumphs – against colonial masters, traitors plunging the nation into civil war, European fascists who sought to dominate the globe – we'll do it through the collective action of the people, by putting the common good above selfish interest.
That's for next year and the years beyond. We have no illusions about the difficulty of rallying the citizenry around a common cause, not after the debilitating and most likely ongoing future attempts to factionalize it irreparably.
Back to this year, to Monday, the shortest day of 2020.
There is light on the horizon. As the days grow longer, more and more of us, starting with those so impacted by the pandemic – the elderly in long-term care homes and their caregivers, those toiling in hospital emergency rooms and intensive care units – will receive vaccinations against COVID-19.
As the first quarter of 2021 moves apace, more vaccinations will follow. Through a collective effort by the scientific and medical communities there is great hope for a way out of this pandemic within a matter of months.
By this time next year, we picture reunions with our friends and loved ones, a restoration of a time when we can be together to celebrate and to grieve, to support one another.
But, that doesn't mean going back to "normal." If the last several years were "normal," we need new model for that term. We must never go back to the "normal" conditions that brought us to where we are on Dec. 23, 2020.
Here's hoping for that redemption as a society, as a nation. It will take all of us.