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Of course, New Year’s Eve 2020 was different. How could it not be? St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, July Fourth, Labor Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas had to be re-created. Why wouldn’t New Year’s Eve be as well?

For over two decades Linda and I have celebrated a belated Christmas/New Year’s Eve mash-up with two friends from Olympia. Most years our South Sound friends traveled up to Bellingham, often via Amtrak. They arrived on the 30th. That evening we’d have a light supper and celebrate our Christmas. On the 31st, after a lazy morning, we often headed to a movie matinee, and to a last dinner of the year out, getting home in plenty of time to celebrate the turning of the year. New Year’s Day was a mix of college football games and a trip to Village Books for its annual 20% off sale. Yes, it was repetitive, and that was its joy.

No travel up or down I-5 this year. Instead, we created two get-togethers, 2020 style. Late afternoon on New Year’s Eve—Happy Hour time—we Zoomed. Opening presents electronically wasn’t the same, but it was good fun. We turned to Facetime later that day, just before midnight. That was also different, but seeing the live fireworks our friends were watching, and shouting out our combined “Good Riddance, 2020.  Happy 2021” at 12:00 was its own sort of exciting.

Never before has it been so satisfying to say “Good Riddance!” at a year’s end. Meme after Facebook meme shared words such as, “I don’t usually stay up for New Year’s Eve. Going to this year—want to make certain the #@!& year really leaves.”

I’m not naïve. I knew that the clock sliding from 11:59 to 12:00 wouldn’t change a thing. I just needed to believe, for a moment, that it would, but, of course nothing magical happened.  There’s a centenarian at our church named Verdie.  As she was approaching her 100th birthday, we were making a great fuss about the event. I remember her casting aside our excitement by saying, “One night I’ll go to bed being 99. I’ll wake up the next morning 100. It’s no more than that.”

The start of 2021 is “no more than that.” There are, though, two significant reasons for hope. Joe Biden is now our president, and Kamala Harris his VP. Plus, the vaccine is being distributed; the end of the pandemic is imaginable. I give thanks for both.

Still, the reality of January, 2021, is grim. Four hundred thousand people in the US have died of the corona virus, and many scientists and health professionals predict the worst days are still ahead. While we wait for the vaccine to reach maximum effectiveness, we will live through increasingly dangerous weeks. After ten long months, I’m deeply tired of quarantine, yet the risk keeps going up and up.

The Biden/Harris era does gives me great hope. I’m writing this on the day of their inauguration. My soul was fed by the beauty of the ceremony and the diversity of the format.  The new president’s coherent, humble approach and his dedication to healing our nation eased my four-year long sense of dread and gloom. Everything about the day—the sunshine, the sprinkling of snow flakes, the jewel-bright colors of the women’s clothing—buoyed my spirits.

A Facebook friend captured the stunning nature of the words we heard.  He noted, “So today it’s hard to know what I most desire… the outrageous and genuine talent of Lady Gaga? …. the poise, gift and future of Amanda Gorman? …. the trailblazing courage and warmth of Kamala Harris? …. the humility, empathy and wisdom of Joe Biden?”

Despite every moment of optimism, the horrific images from the attempted take-over of the Capitol Building on January 6 remind me of the chasm splitting our country. Healing this divide will be a herculean task.

The Sunday before he would be sworn in as a U.S. Senator, Rev. Raphael Warnock addressed his congregation at Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta. His remarks were based on Isaiah 9, where God’s vision for the world is a place of justice and righteousness.  He also added these words of caution: “When you’re accustomed to privilege, parity and equity and equality may feel like oppression. And that’s what the current backlash is all about. That’s what this unleashing of unembarrassed bigotry is all about. That’s what this moment, in which we’re so divided, in many ways is all about.”

I know I have to hold two contrasting realities in my mind.  We do have hard times ahead. The virus is, at this point, more powerful than the few doses of the vaccine that are “in arms.” The unembarrassed bigotry is a fearful force. Yet, I cannot let go of the joy of today’s inauguration. The vision before us is too sparkling and life-giving.

At my church, when the “Hymn of Promise” is announced as the next hymn to be sung, I often hear people around me whispering to one another, “that’s one of my favorites.” Indeed, it deserves the title of favorite, for it reminds us that there is a flower contained within a bulb, and an apple tree in the seed.  Especially helpful for these days as I, as we, yearn for healing, is the promise that there is a dawn following every darkness.

Thank you for reading, my friend.  Let’s help each other remember to hope.

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