At the Helm: Happy New Year indeed!

By David Gee

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” 

That quote is attributed to Lucius Annaeus Seneca, an early 1st Century Italian philosopher, statesman, dramatist, and tutor to the fifth Roman emperor Niro.

And if that doesn’t ring a bell, perhaps you recognize the line from the end of the 1998 hit song “Closing Time,” by Minneapolis rock band Semisonic.

Regardless, it came to mind when I began thinking about quotes that could put a coda on 2020, while at the same time offering an insight into how we might use this past year to make us better for the year ahead.

It’s easy to simply call 2020 “the worst year ever.” In fact, lots of people, including journalists, and countless Internet memes, have summarized the year that was that way.

Obviously topping the awful list is the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe, killing more than 1.7 million people (so far), including more than 337,000 (so far) in the United States.

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Then there was the changing – and contracting – economy and accompanying massive job loss, a divisive political landscape and (post)election chaos, racial tensions, wildfires, floods, lots of hurricanes and even something called murder hornets.

Even with all that though, if you have parents, or grandparents, who lived through the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression, as well as a world war that killed millions, you likely haven’t heard them say 2020 was the worst year ever.

And it seems some historians agree. The Washington Post recently ran an article posing the not-just-rhetorical question "Was 2020 the worst year ever?"

The story cited the self-therapy app Bloom and their query of 28 historians from Yale, Oxford, Stanford and other major universities to choose the worst - or most stressful - year in history.

Heading the list was the year 1348, the height of the Black Death, during which as many as 200 million people died. That would be the equivalent of wiping out 65% of the U.S. population. 

The Holocaust in 1944 ranked second, followed by 1816, known as the "Year Without a Summer," when a volcano eruption in Indonesia blocked out the sun, starving millions.

As the Post article points out, in U.S. history, 2020 was down the list at No. 8. It comes in behind the 2001 terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, 1968’s riots and assassinations, the 1918 flu pandemic, the Trail of Tears, part of a series of forced relocations of approximately 100,000 Native Americans by the United States government, the 1929 stock market crash marking the beginning of the Great Depression, and at the very top, 1862. That is widely considered to be the worst year of the Civil War, when the future of the republic seemed in doubt.

Besides discussing the worst year ever, I have also heard lots of people talking about their desire for things to just "get back to normal.”

Author Kate Murphy wrote in this article in The New York Times that the desire to hunker down and wait until you can simply live your life as you did before is not a healthy response to what we face today.

“The truth is that you cannot control what happens in life,” she posits in a piece about how to pandemic-proof your habits. “But you can create a routine that gives your life a secure mooring. This frees your brain to develop perspective so you’re better able to take life’s surprises in stride.”

Murphy quotes Dr. Regina Pally, MD, a board-certified psychiatrist in Santa Monica, who seconds the notion that we are all much better off establishing new routines, rather than waiting to get back to old ones.

“People get so stuck in how they want it to be that they fail to adapt and be fluid to what is,” said Dr. Pally. “It’s not just Covid – it’s around everything in life.”

For sure there are lots of reasons to want to wish 2020 a not-so-fond farewell. But there are also plenty of things to be grateful about as members of the recreational boating community, and plenty of reasons to be optimistic about 2021.

And on that note, from all of us at Boating Industry, best wishes for a safe and prosperous new year.

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