While I sense we are in that darkest hour before dawn, it is not totally inconceivable that 2021 may turn out even worse than 2020. With the healthcare system in Los Angeles descending into chaos, my family has booked a one-way trip to Germany.
What If 2021 Is Worse Than 2020?
As I read about the looming collapse of the overburdened healthcare system in Los Angeles, I felt a pain in my heart I have never felt. What has happened to my city, my state, and my country? How did we reach this sad point? Some will blame the President. Others will blame their state governor. Still others will blame local leaders. But we also have ourselves to blame, for failing to demand accountability and reacting instead of acting with the sort of swiftness and discernment needed to overcome this problem.
The numbers are grim and getting worse by the day and we have yet to see the surge in new cases from Christmas and New Year’s gatherings. People are frustrated with lockdowns and despite hospitals exceeding capacity, the appetite for further restrictions appears to be waning. Roads in Los Angeles are packed…unlike in March, you would never know that we are in the midst of a pandemic.
On Christmas Day, my street was packed was cars. Families got together. My family sat at home feeling like suckers for trying to flatten curve while no one else seemed to care. And I don’t say that in judgment, because under different circumstances I probably would have done the same thing. The value of fellowship with loved ones is worth a certain risk.
The notion of “give me liberty or give me death” is predicated upon responsibility, but death has not been the only tragedy of COVID-19. Indeed, I have been unable to give my grandmother, who lives in a nursing home less than 10 minutes from my house, a hug since March. The best we can do is wave to her behind glass, like an animal in a zoo. It is tragic.
* * *
I had my own version of the New York balcony applause last night and it actually was an emotional experience. For months, New Yorkers broke out into cheers and applause every night at 7:00PM, the time in which healthcare workers traditionally changed shifts. Across the boroughs of the city, people opened their windows or stepped out onto their balconies not just in a show of gratitude, but of solidarity.
Germany is under an Ausgangssperre or curfew. In Baden-Württemberg where I am, no one is allowed outside between 8:00PM and 6:00AM except for essential matters. And you know something? People respect it.
While I still question whether lockdowns serve utilitarian goals, I am amazed once again at the order and tranquilly of Germany.
Last night, I watched Chancellor Merkel deliver her 15th and likely final annual address to the nation. She did not mince words and for the first time that I can ever recall, showed emotion:
“I think I am not exaggerating when I say: never in the last 15 years have we found the old year so heavy and never have we, despite all the worries and some skepticism, looked forward to the new one with so much hope.”
“I can only imagine how bitter it must feel for those mourning loved ones lost to corona or who are having to fight against the repercussions of an illness when the virus is disputed and denied by some hopeless individuals. Conspiracy theories are not only false and dangerous, they are also cynical and cruel.”
It reminded me of Queen Elizabeth’s Christmas Day speech this year, in which she touched on the pain of being separated from loved ones.
Typically, the new year is ushered in with fireworks in Germany. Everyone takes to the streets and sets off their own fireworks, lighting the night sky with hundreds of simultaneous explosions of light.
Last night was different. There were a few stray fireworks here and there, but most stayed home and obeyed the curfew. From my in-law’s house, we opened the window. The neighbor was out on his balcony. We toasted and wished each other a happy new year. Across the city others wished their neighbors a happy new year from windows and balconies. It brought a tear to my eye not so much because I truly believe this is the best approach, but because I marvel at a nation that works together.
And we still enjoyed fireworks, as the house overlooks Basel, where the Swiss have decided to take a looser approach to coronavirus restrictions. Interestingly, Germany closed the French and Swiss borders yesterday to prevent people from buying fireworks in France or Switzerland and bringing them back. Was that too heavy-handed or the right approach under the circumstance?
* * *
We cancelled our Christmas trip to Spain and spent the holiday at home, but ended traveling to Germany a few days ago.
I don’t have a return ticket booked yet. My son’s school resumes next week and tuition won’t be reduced if he misses it. Still, perhaps the better education for him in the weeks ahead is being immersed in German and spending time with his grandparents he rarely gets to see.
One upside to working for myself is that I can work just about anywhere in the world. There are projects waiting at home and my family and church as well, but I’m incredibly comfortable in Germany and we may end up making this an extended trip.
It’s not like life is normal here. Most businesses are closed, restaurants are only open for takeout, and of course the aforementioned curfew. Yet as we walk through the crisp cool winter air on our afternoon walks through the forest, I’m invigorated like I have not been for months.
Sure, we’ll be back in Los Angeles eventually. But I cannot tell you when.