My last post was about some of the good of 2021 for me: the fact that running continued, and that racing in person kind of returned. I managed to achieve some unexpected goals as well. But this post is not about the happy. It’s about the exhaustion.
If you want to sum up the culmination of the past couple of years and the evolution of all the terrible parts of society, go watch the new Netflix movie Don’t Look Up. So many of my friends are talking about this movie, so I felt like it was a must see. My daughter and I watched it last night.
I really thought it was going to be about climate change. I don’t know why I got this impression. However, it’s definitely more of a commentary on American culture, greed, science denial, and capitalism. It’s stunningly accurate. There are definitely lessons to be learned here, and the judgment is harsh. The ending left me speechless.
Looking back on 2021, it was not the year I expected to experience. I really felt hopeful that life would get back to normal once the vaccines debuted. I thought that a new President would quell some of the civil unrest in this country. I thought that we would begin to understand that climate change is real. I thought that our government would hear our cries for mercy and forgive student loan debt. I thought that our Supreme Court would rule rationally. I thought that our lower courts would help fight for social justice. None of these things really came to fruition.
I naively thought everyone would rush to get the vaccine, and we would eradicate Covid. Instead, we’ve endured wave after wave of new variants, with each new surge in cases straining our hospitals and pushing your healthcare providers to the brink. There’s no experience quite like watching someone gasp for air, heart rate surging uncomfortably, with simply sitting up in bed, all due to Covid. There’s nothing like losing a beloved patient to Covid. There’s nothing like helping a patient who came to your rehab unit as a functional quad after battling Covid for weeks in the ICU learn how to walk again. We thought we were past the worst of the pandemic, but the surge is happening again. As our manager tearfully apologized for having to call some of our team members (including me) over the holiday weekend for being exposed once again to Covid at work, it feels like we are back to the beginning of this crisis all over again. Fortunately, I’m double vaxxed, boosted, and was wearing Covid ready PPE, so I was not considered at risk. But our cases are skyrocketing to numbers we haven’t seen since the initial waves. Now we are also trying to rationalize with patients who don’t believe the science. It’s crazy. And we are all exhausted. (Please get vaccinated.)
I really thought the return to a more normal government would help unite the country and bring civility back. Instead, we got an insurrection and continued divisiveness. One only needs to take a drive around my rural Virginia county to see the propaganda. Signs declaring CRT poison. Flags and signs telling off our current President. I’ve even got a neighbor waving a plain black flag. I looked up what it meant, and it’s disturbing. But this is where we’re at in America, and it’s not pretty. It’s embarrassing.
On climate change:
We’ve seen an uptick in natural disasters, from fires to floods to multiple major hurricanes to massively destructive tornadoes in December. None of this is normal. We must trust science. We must do something now, or our children won’t have an earth to live on. Climate change isn’t something that’s happening somewhere else in the world. It really does affect everyone.
The student loan situation is a crime against meritocracy. We are fed the line of getting a good education so you can better yourself. Unfortunately, education has become ridiculously expensive. Cuts to public education have declined substantially on both the federal and state levels, beginning in the Nixon era, all while we expect schools to do more with less. It seems that education is an easy sacrifice when balancing the government budget. But sentencing someone who is already poor to crippling student debt is cruel. It’s just one more way to increase the divide between the haves and the have-nots. Student loan interest rates are often 3 times higher than current mortgage rates. Something has to change.
Our K-12 public school teachers are exhausted. They are not paid well enough to do what they do every day, even before the pandemic. (Go back to those budget cuts.) They managed to pivot instruction to online when asked. And now they are dealing with unrest in school board meetings, having to edit their classroom libraries, watch what truths they teach, teach their kids how to protect against school shooters, and manage a pandemic, too. It’s a wonder that we have any school teachers left.
My younger daughter is still in high school. There’s nothing quite like the conversation in the car on the way home that centers about all of the problem solving she has done with regard to how to either escape or hide from a potential school shooter in each of her classrooms. No child should have to waste critical thinking skills on this topic. No parent should have to fathom this possibility, either. Period.
The new anti-abortion law in Texas, if you recall, left me in panic mode when I realized it would be allowed to stand. I’m not sure if the Supreme Court realizes the Pandora’s box that has been opened. Just to think about how many laws can be written to circumvent constitutional rights is maddening.
In the social justice realm, although I am thrilled that in Richmond, all of the confederate monuments have been removed, we’ve still got a long way to go in invoking real change. Some recent court rulings regarding violence against people of color have been favorable. However, the courts also approved of a teenage vigilante possessing an illegal assault weapon who committed murder. That’s not justice.
I know I sound like a Debbie Downer. But truthfully, I’m not too optimistic about 2022. I’m going in with very low expectations, and I hope to be surprised. I oscillate between wanting to exhaust myself trying to change the world for the better and wanting to stay in a cocoon, hidden and safe from all of the dangers in this world. I’ve noticed that I go through cycles of not watching or listening to the news for weeks at a time when I feel overwhelmed.
I think we can all agree that we’ve been collectively traumatized by this pandemic and all of the unrest that has accompanied it. It’s blatantly revealed the inequalities both in our country and around the world.
We must all do better, do more to make this world safer for everyone. We must vote. We must trust science. We must help our neighbors. We must address systemic issues that maintain the once comfortable status quo. It’s time to get uncomfortable. It’s time to help effect real change. We are on the brink of so much awful, and I feel like it’s almost out of our hands at this point. But we have to try to reign it in. We just have to.
Goodbye, 2021. Although there were many good things about this year for me, mostly related to running, writing, my kids persevering despite continued changes in school, and having steady work, I think most of us will agree, this year has left us exhausted.
How do you feel about 2021? Are you as exhausted as me? It really has to get better, right? I’ll go back to pretending everything is fine at some point. But today, this is where I’m at.
As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.