A couple of months ago, a title of a book came across the computer screen in an advertisement for Amazon. The title intrigued and the sub-title even more, so the ad was clicked. Reading the contents, the prefaces and the recommendations added to the appeal of the title. The price point was not a steal, but seemed more than reasonable, and soon the book was nestled in its proper place in the Kindle app.

There was no urgent sense of, “I have to read this now!” so about 10 days later, when time was available, the book was opened and reading begun. The first page caused a few pauses and at least one head shake. The first chapter was not completed before the ultimate decision was made: “I don’t like this book.”

One click shut the chapter and the book. One swipe put the icon back in its place, never to be opened again. Case closed.

Most of us want to do that to 2020, don’t we? While the Chinese recognize many positive virtues to “The Year of the Rat,” it just seems time to call an exterminator.

Days before the end of the year, The New York Times ran an opinion editorial titled, “What Makes You Think 2021 Will be Better?” Intrigued, the head nodded in agreement and I started to read.

The article was written by Wajahat Ali who is a regular contributing Opinion writer for the paper covering family, religion and politics. Mr. Ali writes, “I’m usually an optimist who pushes for hope in the most dire of circumstances. However, when I hear friends talk about how the new year and Joe Biden’s presidency will answer our collective prayers and cleanse our collective palate from 2020’s unrelenting onslaught of pain and misery, I can’t help but feel skeptical.”

The column details the problems of 2020 that will not change in 2021. In every year of my life, there are certain problems that persist. Their severity may differ from year to year, but challenges are a part of life, a part of this story that we continue to read. While 2020 seemed to be unusually bad, from the eruption of a volcano in the Philippines to the continuing oozing lava of the COVID, this was one of the worst chapters of this book of life. The opinion piece was correct; we cannot this part of the story to make 2021 better.

Ali’s article makes a bold statement that again causes my head to nod in agreement. “If we want 2021 to be better, we will have to make it better ourselves.” But we part ways in his answer of how to do that. Ali suggests, “One way to start: elect Democrats in Georgia’s two Senate runoffs … allowing them to protect democracy and the rule of law.”

The motivation to institute changes that will make 2021 better are real. I understand his passionate desire to turn the year of the rat into the year of the oxen. But just as challenges don’t change, the ones in charge of the political system don’t change. Ali accuses that “Republicans will do what they can to limit a Biden agenda.” That is no different than what the Democrats did to limit a Trump agenda during the last four years. The only thing that changes are the problems the party creates.

The political system is broken. Instead of trying to fix it, the leaders of our political parties continue to act like 4-year-olds, pointing their fingers, screaming at each other about who broke it. Maybe both need to be sent to their rooms with no dessert tonight.

The Forbes magazine website also ran an opinion piece at the close of 2020. Written by Margie Warrell, the article urged us to “Reflect, Renew & Reset: How 2020 Can Make 2021 Better.” This author’s latest book is titled, “You’ve Got This! The Life-Changing Power of Trusting Yourself.” Grab a pencil. Let’s answer her questions in these three areas.

As we reflect, she writes, “So before you step into a new year, reflect on the valuable lessons you gained from this last one.” What have you learned about yourself and your ability to adapt quickly to changes? How would you describe who you are today as opposed to the person you were a year ago? What is the nature of your fears about the future and what defines your courage to do something about those fears?

She continues, “What can you do on each of the four core dimensions of wellbeing?” How can you nurture and strengthen your body? How can you cultivate more positive emotions? How can you refocus your mind through recommitting to your personal priorities? And what do you do to reconnect to a deeper sense of purpose and meaning, nurturing your faith? Those four key areas renew who you really are.

Finally, she proclaims, “Just because your plans derailed this year is no reason not to set your sights on the bold vision for the one ahead.” Creating your personal vision creates your own personal power. How will you draw on your strengths to lead the charge by changing you? Reset — not where you are going necessarily, but how you are going to get there.

Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, “Let us not squander this year of pain.” Life is too short to settle for anything less. I need to stop waiting for Congress to act and instead allow conscience to dictate.

From the Catbird Seat, most of the problems and challenges of 2020 are dancing their way into the streets of 2021. Some of those problems will create even greater challenges in the coming year. Changing the controlling political party is not going to alter the end of the chapter or the story. I need to change the one reading the book.

Tom May is a freelance writer and educator, and a columnist for the News and Tribune. Reach him at tgmay001@gmail.com.

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