Let’s make 2021 a new kind of bad

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
It is my last column for this year, and I would like to take the opportunity to say "Goodbye 2020, you absolute dick", writes Kate Oktay.

Kate Oktay
Kate Oktay
First Australia set itself on fire, shrouding us in ominous orange haze that looked like a very bad portent on New Year’s Day, and it kind of turned out it was. Even the colour was right on. And then there was a global pandemic, which was a thing that I previously thought only happened to people in Europe in the Middle Ages, but apparently not; and then the world’s economy tanked, and then putin-borris-climatechange-brexit-trump-hongkong-georgefloyd-jkflasjfwjksa.

But, November. She came, shining; galloping through the mist of pollution, an angry goddess slaying a rotund, tangerine-coloured, tiny-handed dragon. Bringing the promise of vaccination, and making us all feel a little more safe again.

And I know it has been terrible. Terrible, awful things happened around the world, and less terrible, but still awful things happened here. People have been worried. People have lost jobs, and stability, and houses, and hope. And, for my poor friends and family overseas, who have been inside cramped apartments with full-time jobs, and full-time home-schooling, and no parents or aunts or uncles or friends for a year. Or no healthcare without attending unsafe jobs, or no healthcare, or no jobs, and the heart-shattering worry of being sick or losing the people you love.

And, yet, it was not all bad, here at least. 2020 changed us, for a moment. A flickering of what could be. People cared about health, and family, and walking outside in beautiful autumnal Otago, and the traffic stopped and the tui swooped and we all counted our blessings and helped our neighbours.

The world turned on its axis. And I have proof of this, because I started gardening. If I can start gardening, then humanity is capable of anything. Well, that and feeling insecurity in the food chain also makes you capable of anything. Some people panic bought toilet paper, and I cleared the dense woodland of deadly nightshade and neck-high dandelions and planted rows of spinach. To my neighbours’ relief I hacked away at a fierce undergrowth of noxious weeds that hereto had been clambering up trees and spreading in clouds of feathery seeds that sailed over fences with wild abandon.

And neighbours. Neighbours were wonderful. My daughter would pad outside to get a closer look into their kitchen window. "Paaaam! Robert!" she would call in a small but incessant voice. "It’s 10am," my husband would say to me, grinning. "They have been asleep for enough now." And we would relax with a cup of tea as she did their heads in talking in cat language and making heavy-handed hints about biscuits.

2020 has been a lesson. A dumb, stupid, not-fun-to-learn lesson. And the lesson is this. We need to make 2021 as bad as 2020. A new kind of bad, but, still bad. We need to don the hair shirt of kaitiakitanga and take off the silken dress of the pillagers of the planet that we live on. We need to keep gardening and stop getting small bunches of greens wrapped in plastic from the supermarket. And keep buying local, and not going on long weekends to Melbourne. We need to put up with other people’s fairly annoying offspring crawling under hedges and doing things to strengthen our community and society. And even though it will be bad, it will still be better than now, because we won’t be stalked by a deadly plague and we won’t be reading American foreign policy on Twitter. And because if we don’t, and we keep encroaching on nature and decimating biodiversity, then another pandemic, another country on fire or underwater is just a matter of time.

So, this New Year’s, let’s make the resolution to practise some delayed gratification not only for ourselves but also for the planet. Along with vowing to stop drinking three bottles of wine a night and having two pies in one go, let’s also stop luxuriating in waste and consumerism. Let’s go against the collective grain and try to do things to curtail another global pandemic, or societal division that encourages people to vote for some other right-wing, populist nut-job.

Let’s make 2021 a new kind of bad. We can do it. I believe in you Otago.


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