Wait ‘til next year: Giving up on 2020, looking toward 2021

NEW YORK (AP) — This was supposed to be the year of the comeback for Boysie Dikobe, a South African dancer recovering from his second hip replacement and gearing up to get back on stage when the coronavirus hit.

Dikobe, a 29-year-old dancer who performs with a traveling drag ballet troupe that tours globally, says his first thought was: “2020 is canceled.”

It’s barely halfway over, and Dikobe is part of a global choir wishing for 2020 to end. No Olympics, no awards shows, no weddings, no summer camp, no graduations. Nothing to look forward to except a new Netflix show or your newfound love of regrowing scallions or baking bread.

Now it’s all about 2021 — the year when everything, and maybe nothing, happens.

The coronavirus pandemic has brought tectonic change to almost every part of life — how we live, where we live, where we work, what we do for work, what it means to be a kid, what family means, what is important. There was a months-long moment where the world was on pause, causing many to dig into existential questions: What is my purpose? Where do I belong?

That’s what Dikobe found himself doing as he quarantined in his small New York apartment contemplating his future — both personal and professional. Would he ever perform on stage again, or would he have to retire before an opportunity arrived? The more he considered it, the more he found himself thinking: “2020 is not canceled, actually. It’s an awakening.”

Leslie Dwight, a 23-year-old writer, wondered the same thing in a poem she wrote that was endlessly shared on social media about a week after the May 25 death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. “2020 isn’t canceled, but rather, the most important year of them all,” she wrote.

But why do we even say things like “2020 is canceled” and “New year, new me”? Experts who study human behavior say the human desire to pin failures, hopes and dreams on a period of time like a calendar year has primitive roots connected to our attachment to routine.

“Because we missed our spring, summer isn’t really summer because it only comes after a complete spring,” says Stuart Patterson, chairperson of the Shimer Great Books School at North Central College. “The only opportunity to reset is next spring. Everything else we’re doing this year is going to be drained of significance because they don’t have the proper sequence.”

It’s like when Hamlet declares that “time is out of joint,” Patterson says.

How do we measure a year — a question about the passage of time that has a whole song devoted to it in the Broadway musical “Rent”? With seasons, milestones, rituals, events. So when a year is stripped of all of those moments, people feel lost and put hope in the future to manage expectations, psychologists and social scientists say.

Every calendar year brings a cycle of hope. January is when we’ll finally commit to our diet, quit smoking, become the person we always wanted to be. We believe in the power of change and promise ourselves: “This is our year,” as one reveler proclaimed just after the ball dropped in Times Square.


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