Both a number and a choice

On Dec. 31, 2020, I went to bed at 11 p.m. I woke up nine hours later, embracing 2021 and pretending that things would change as the new year unfolded.

What’s so special about Jan. 1 that whips reasonable people everywhere up into an idealistic frenzy? It’s an arbitrary date. Many view it as the finish line of a 365-day race, realizing only two weeks, and one hour on the treadmill later, that the marathon never ends.

On Nov. 5, 2020, I went to bed at 11 p.m., unable to vote, join the army, serve on a jury, bartend, bet on a horse race, skydive or get a Costco card. That all changed one hour later when I turned 18 years old. Now, I can wear a sticker flaunting my political partisanship, mass murder innocent Iraqis (and receive a presidential pardon for it), electrocute my peers, drug people, blow my life savings, genuflect before the Angel of Death and buy 6.6 pounds of Nutella for $21.99.

I’m an adult. So why don’t I feel like it? I’ve been stumbling in the dark, looking for the switch that will illuminate everything.

It’s time for me to admit there is no such thing. I’m on my own. As a child, I assumed that with adulthood would come answers to all the world’s problems. But there are no answers, just questions whittling away at me.

With each passing second, I become less and less likely to meet the lofty expectations Life has set for me. I am a novice ballerina performing the black swan variation. I am the executor of my own will, both the guillotine and the condemned.

There is a quick and easy way to alleviate these pressures: I can retreat into my shell. I would be much wealthier and safer if I were to shun my so-called “civic duty” and spend the rest of my life looking out only for myself. I have inherited a world on its deathbed, and somehow it’s my fault. What’s the rest of the world to me? They forsook me, so it’s only fair I forsake them.

But then how am I better than them? I’d be no different than those testudineous politicians and billionaires we love to loathe.

Each and every generation has believed at some point that they could change the established order. In the past, they have shorted their lofty ideals, their goodwill and their insatiable drive to foster global revolution in exchange for shares of a corrupt and broken system. We cannot allow ourselves to become so jaded we make the same mistakes.

The future is in our hands, because we are the 21st century. We can be Lady Godiva astride a noble steed, Moses parting the Red Sea. A blazing orb in the cold emptiness of outer space. We can be all the appurtenances of the dawn.

Write to your elected officials. Tell them to go to hell. Elect better ones. Donate a portion of your paycheck to a charity of your choice, reduce your energy consumption by a kilowatt or two. But most importantly, never lose faith in your ability to have a profound impact on the world.