On Dec. 31 at 11:59 p.m., 2020 will finally come to an end as the Earth completes a single circuit around the sun. On Jan. 1 at 12 a.m., 2021 will begin and leave behind a truly unenviable year.
True to form, however, 2020 will not go quietly. Like a bitter dose of cough syrup, this year will interrupt even its exit. 2020 will end in a pandemic, and we will start the new year where we have spent most of the last one: in our homes, behind our doors and in quarantine.
It will be a sharp, biting holiday. We will face a cold evening without our friends nearby to keep us warm. Many of us will wake up to a new year far from our normal celebrations and family. The final seconds of 2020 will be counted down outside of paradise.
Celebrating the new year over Zoom will feel lonely, even if it may be necessary. It is a sour, if fitting, ending to the year, and though it is tempting to celebrate with those we love as if 2021 truly is a new beginning, the fact remains that it is not. We are not past this pandemic. COVID-19 is now, more than ever, laying waste to communities throughout the world.
It is out of a depressing necessity that we must celebrate this holiday in isolation. Trapped in a grim reality and adrift from the spirits that are raised by the very presence of others, we will face this daunting storm without the familiar smiles, hugs and love that normally compose New Year’s.
I hate that.
New Year’s has always been special because I’ve been able to share it with others. Whether it was counting down to midnight, watching illicit fireworks light up Los Angeles or celebrating Oshogatsu with my family, Dec. 31 and Jan. 1 were a reminder of where I am from and the people I love.
I hate that there’s still a pandemic. I hate that I won’t see those people. I hate that 2020 will kick us on the way out the door. I want to let loose and celebrate the end of something. Instead, the universe has rolled its dice and simply moved on. The Earth is spinning around the sun with no regard for COVID-19, and we must focus on keeping one another safe. For the sake of our society, we must forgo those pleasures and stay distant and quarantined.
Yet I still look forward to New Year’s. I’m still here. I lasted another year and so did you, as terrible or unbearable as that year may have been. And despite the fact that we may not be sitting next to one another, laughing at our jokes or smiling under the starlight, we are still together.
The Earth’s spin may seem objective and emotionless, but it still spins the same for all of us. Young, old, tall, short, here, there, friends, family and strangers — we have experienced this year collectively, together, feet planted on the same planet. Our bodies have not flown off into the wild yonder, and when the year ends, those bodies will all remain stubbornly rooted together.
There is a centripetal force to the holiday, a gravity that draws us all together even as circumstances seem to scatter us every which way. We may not be physically together on New Year’s Eve, but we will all, without exclusion or failure, experience the end of 2020. On Dec. 31, no matter how far apart we must be, we are not alone.
We will see the same shadows lengthen, hear the same tick of the clock and feel the same rhythms of the Earth as she starts around the sun once more. It may not be safe to be together physically, but that doesn’t mean we all won’t experience the same moment, when 2020 turns into 2021.
Our lips will part to say “three, two, one,” we will raise our glasses for a toast while fireworks burst in the night air and we will do so together. That feeling, that moment, that new year will fly through the space between us. We may not share the same conversation or cheer, but we will still share that time.
We will face this New Year’s the way we have faced this pandemic: together, if separated. We all share in this moment, in the necessity to keep ourselves and others safe and in experiencing the passage of time. We may not be sitting next to one another on Dec. 31, but when the clock strikes midnight, we’ll all be looking in the same direction: forward.
The new year leaves nothing behind, and as terrible as it may seem to be by yourself, remember that we are all still here with you. Time moves for all of us and leaves none of us behind. You are never really alone, and when we next lay eyes on one another, trade high-fives and embrace each other in big tear-filled hugs, we will all be in the same place: 2021.