Will 2021 be any better than 2020?

Hill Times January 11, 2021

The first five days of 2021 seemed promising, until the American insurgency went down on Jan. 6. The world stood wide-eyed in shock, Twitter lost its collective mind, and there went all hopes of a dry January.

In 2020, the moments of calm were even more notable when surrounded by grim numbers of COVID cases and deaths, interspersed with some can’t-make-this-shit-up news from America. We’ll tell our grandchildren about 2020 through memes, the ones with the undercurrent of fear. What horror movie will come to life next?

The funny thing about horror movies is that the horror is culturally based. Each culture pictures its deepest fears and horrors differently. Some have argued that the classic English haunted house was about the British fear of the Nazi in one’s own house; and that the zombie is about the American fear that they look like us but are no longer us. More likely, there are all sorts of unconscious fears and anxieties reflected in horror movies and stories.

Indigenous cultures also have scary characters that are unique to their culture or cultural group.  On the West Coast, First Nations have a story about the woman in the forest, which is a both a horror story and one to keep the kids close to home. Then there’s the story about the people who almost were lost at sea but somehow returned to shore but never can return to full human. There are stories about humans who have lost their moral compass and who threaten the community.  In the horror stories in Indigenous cultures, there’s usually a message about avoiding a risk, or protecting the Earth, or maintaining the balance of the community. That’s the other side of horror stories; sometimes there’s a lesson to be learned.

So what’s the lesson from 2020? Whatever it is, we need to get with the program, because Elders in this part of the country would say that if we don’t learn it, we will continue to be given opportunities to learn the lesson or the horror. So what is the lesson?

There are possibly a few good lessons.

We need to fix some systems that aren’t working, and now’s the time to do that. There’s nothing like a pandemic to prove that systems are not equitable for all Canadians. And there’s nothing like a pandemic to slay the myth that the economy will make us all healthy. How can we ensure that we fix systems so we don’t go through this again?

We can be horrified by the actions of those among us, by systems that perpetuate racism, and by the people who uphold the system, to the white supremacists in our midst. I’m not sure we’ve learned the lesson yet about how to work through this horror. What will we collectively do about white supremacists? What will we collectively do about systemic racism?

We can cope with more than we thought we could. But this is framed against the horror of being alone, and this is a such a strong horror for so many of us. The lesson may be that we truly belong in community, despite all the messages of individualism that pummel us daily. We belong in community. We do better together.

We just went through the winter solstice last month, the shortest day of the year and the longest night. But in our reality, we are in the solstice of 2020 and it won’t be over for months. That gives us time to put our minds to fix the systems that elevate some and bar others from inclusion. It gives us time to remind ourselves that being part of a society is first about responsibility and accountability to each other. And it gives us some more time to acknowledge the strength and fortitude of those around us.

Here’s to our collective learning in 2021.