The universal metaphor for the arrival of a New Year is invariably the same: an image portraying the outgoing year as a bearded, battered, beaten-up, beaten-down old man handing off the reins to a baby New Year, who’ll no doubt look like its predecessor in 365 days, for whatever unforeseen reasons.
This reflects how we feel at year’s end. We wearily look forward to the fresh reboot at the doorstep while casting the old away.
This week, I’ve been conducting a postmortem of 2021’s highs and lows. There were a lot of both, but after the surreal nightmare of 2020, this year felt like an improvement just by seeming a few steps closer to normal again. There were days I enjoyed and days that dragged me down and even made me angry. This year ran a broad emotional gamut.
But one day stands out for me because it produced such an intense mix of feelings. That was the day in late April when I received my second COVID-19 injection at the Yankton Mall.
First, let me preface it by pointing to our shared experience of 2020, when the pandemic arrived like a meteor and wiped out normality as we knew it, and it left a lot of scars.
But the thing that gave us hope — the promise of a COVID vaccine — also led to some worry.
The first vaccines arrived here at the tail end of 2020, and a tiered distribution process began unfolding soon thereafter. Those of us who weren’t on a high-priority list were left waiting for our turn. As I’ve written before, this felt a little like the scene in the movie “Jaws” when Quint tells of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis in 1945, which left him and his crewmates adrift in the shark-infested sea. When rescuers finally arrived, the sailors had to wait their turn in the water, creating the terrifying open question of which would get to them first: the rescuers or the sharks?
I waited through those winter months as people in higher priority groups got vaccinated. During that time, I was grateful that several friends and members of my family were able to get vaccinated for either professional or health reasons. My biggest worry has always been that I might make others sick, and that lessened the anxiety a bit.
When the vaccination process finally reached my group (media) in early April (especially after it had been initially projected that many of us might not get vaccinated until summer), I made an appointment and got my first vaccine, followed by the second jab three weeks later.
After that second shot (and the mandatory wait), I walked outside into the gentle spring air feeling relieved and energized. After all we had endured in 2020, after spending so many days the previous fall staring at a deadly COVID surge against which we seemed mostly defenseless, after a year of hearing too many worst-case scenarios and conflicting takes, I suddenly felt relatively free. While I knew the vaccine wasn’t a 100% defense (just like the flu shot I get every year, only better), at least I finally had a weapon at my disposal.
But then a gnawing sadness settled in, and it was for precisely the same reasons. We had endured so much the previous 13 months. So many people had lost loved ones and friends. So many people had to carefully take extra precautions. So many people had to face all this head-on and with little relief. Every day seemed like a new minefield of COVID anxieties. The road to vaccination was filled with fear, confusion, inconvenience and grief, as well as constant vigilance and (for me) nervous energy. A path like that changes you in countless ways. I thought about that a lot after the second injection, which I knew didn’t end things but was simply the next step in what figured to be a long, ongoing process. I had indeed been changed.
Also, I’ve felt frustration, but not from the fact that the vaccines needed boosters (which I’ve gotten) or that I could still contract COVID despite being vaccinated (again, just like the flu). Instead, my frustration is with those who are fighting the vaccination process and self-defense measures at the highest levels. There are individuals resisting it, but that’s nothing new: There were those who resisted vaccines for smallpox, polio, measles and so on. But the sight of, for instance, state governors decrying and legally fighting vaccine mandates and other measures as “overreach” is a damning spectacle amid a deadly pandemic. To score political points, they would disarm us in a war against a mutating virus. With their actions and attitudes, these governors, I fear, are killing people.
But that was the nature of the year, and it will NOT go away on Jan. 1. As U2 once sang, “Nothing changes on New Year’s Day ...”
As 2022 dawns, we still have much to do on the COVID front, just as we did a year ago. The omicron variant is surging, and our defenses and our wisdom are being tested yet again. But at least we’re in a better position now, all things considered. And with that, I feel optimistic, which is a hopeful change from one year ago.
Follow @kelly_hertz on Twitter.