There are many ways to measure terribleness: the thousand-plus Boston Public Schools staffers out on Tuesday; the staggering COVID case counts; the virus-ridden wastewater.
But perhaps no statistic can be as telling as the change in the way we have started communicating:
If December was the month that friends reached out with warm holiday wishes — ”Merry, Merry” — January is the month they’re reaching out to cancel plans or to share bad tidings.
“Given what’s going on with this crazy Omicron, it seems wise to postpone your birthday dinner.”
“Just got my PCR results back. I guess we *should* have rolled down the car windows even though we were being pelted by an icy mix.”
January has never been great, but we usually enter its maw after a festive period, when we’ve been fortified by holiday parties and family gatherings and restorative trips. We hit January with positive momentum, and before we know it, it’s February break, and then, well, March and almost time to start complaining about Cape traffic.
But we’re entering this January in a weakened, post-sourdough state, where family gatherings, if they existed at all, were spent swabbing our nostrils, and vacations turned into time on hold with the airline waiting to reschedule the canceled flight.
Given all we’ve been through, and all we have ahead of us, we’re not even in the mood to be in a good mood. The only thing that sparks true joy is misery.
Perhaps that’s why more than 3,000 people retweeted a tweet that Boston University professor Jonathan Levy dashed off on Jan. 2.
“I didn’t do any work over the holidays, but I maintained a high level of stress and inadequate sleep so I could ease the transition back,” he tweeted.
Reached by phone, Levy, whose research includes indoor-air-pollution-exposure modeling, said he spent his time “off” fielding questions about which masks are best and other COVID-safety issues.
“It was not exactly curling up by the fire and roasting chestnuts,” he said.
How bad is this January? Even by COVID winter standards — the lowest bar imaginable — it’s bad, said Lamont Price, an award-winning comedian in Boston and co-curator of comedy for Boston Calling.
“At least last January there was the promise of the vaccine,” he said. “There was a lot of fatigue going on, but people were talking about how this was going to be the roaring ‘20s. There was this promise of getting back to somewhat regular life.”
Now? It’s beginning to feel like “regular life” is COVID.
All of which brings us to a philosophical question to kick off our third COVID year: From a mental health (and wardrobe) perspective, would we be better off now if from the outset we had known how long this haul would be? (As in: Public Service Announcement from March 2020: “Those shoes you’re leaving under your desk for two weeks until this whole thing blows over . . . you’ll never see them again.”)
The Rev. Fred Small, of Cambridge, looked to the MBTA as inspiration for the answer. “It’s like when you’re on the Red Line and the train stops,” he said. “It is so much more helpful to hear an announcement saying, ‘We will be delayed for 25 minutes for emergency repairs,’ than it is to hear nothing, or ‘We’ll be moving in just a couple of minutes, folks.’” (And then not moving for 25 minutes.)
Small and his wife have gotten through this time, he said, by regularly looking into each other’s eyes and saying, “Thank God you’re here.”
“It’s not just the pandemic,” he said. “It’s the climate crisis and systemic racism and voter suppression and authoritarianism.”
Lately, to make it survivable, they’ve given all of the bad stuff a playful, Harry Potter-inspired name: Norbert.
Welcome to Norbert 2022.
Beth Teitell can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @bethteitell.