Larry B. Gildersleeve
In print and online, 2020 has been referred to as Annus Horribilis, an intentional twist on John Dryden’s 1667 poem Annus Mirabilis (year of miracles). Queen Elizabeth first coined the term in a speech marking her fortieth anniversary as Britain’s monarch when she said: “1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure. It has turned out to be an annus horribilis. I suspect that I am not alone in thinking it so.”
Why did she think she’d had a horrible year back then? In March, her second son Andrew separated from his wife, Sarah Ferguson. In April, Elizabeth’s only daughter, Anne, separated from her husband, Mark Phillips. In May, the book Diana: Her True Story in Her Words documented for a voyeuristic world her fractured marriage to Charles, the queen’s oldest son and future king. In succeeding months, the tabloid press recounted in excruciating detail the alleged infidelities of both Charles and Diana. On November 20th, four days before the queen’s speech, a fire destroyed a portion of Windsor Castle, the historic royal residence in London.
Elizabeth’s family upheaval almost thirty years ago pales in comparison to the global annus horribilis we witnessed, and experienced, last year. As if a pandemic wasn’t enough, we saw unprecedented challenge to our institutions of democracy that spilled over into the new year in never-before-seen civil unrest. But 2020 is, thankfully, in the rearview mirror of our lives, and there’s a lot of talk around our town, and around the world, about getting back to normal. But it begs the question – what will be our new normal? When will it happen and how will we recognize it? Doubtful anyone has the answers, but there’s one thing we can all resolve to do. Turn the page.
Wouldn’t it be a huge waste of a horrifying pandemic if we aren’t somehow better at the end than we were at the beginning this time a year ago? Better wives, husbands, parents and grandparents. Better friends to others. Better employers and employees. Better citizens, of our country and the world. Our new normal will most certainly take us into uncharted waters of workplace change and formal education. How we receive medical care and social services will change, as will how we interact with others, how we travel, how we worship, how we conduct our lives from one day to the next. Let’s embrace change, and not lament a past of how things used to be and never will be again. And turn the page.
It’s far easier to fix blame than fix problems. Let’s not quarrel about the right or wrong of face mask mandates and social distancing, rather turn our attention to helping our fellow citizens during trying times. Before it’s too late, let’s patronize local merchants in their time of need as if we were helping rural neighbors get their crops in at harvest time. Accept the reality that others have a different view of the world around us, and work overtime being kind to one another. Turn the page.
It’s been said pain in our lives is inevitable, but misery is a choice. Let’s choose to look forward with optimism and enthusiasm, not backward with pessimism and regret. A battlefield general doesn’t visit field hospitals overflowing with horribly wounded combatants to get his mind right to lead even more soldiers into battle. There are positive lessons to be learned, guidance to follow, from our experiences of the last year, to get our minds right. Let’s take those with us on our journey forward, forget the rest, and turn the page.
Oscar Wilde said: “Experience is the hardest teacher. It gives you the test first, and the lesson afterward.” We were all tested in 2020, and the test continues. Only we can determine what is important in our lives, the lessons we’ve learned. Let’s use annus horribilis to lift ourselves up, and not let an opportunity for profound personal renewal pass us by. Let’s turn the page.