Robert Kirby: 2021 is hardly the best of times, but it’s also not the worst

How would we have fared during earlier plagues or wars?

Robert Kirby

All hope to the contrary, 2021 seems about as grim, so far, as last year. Everyone thought 2020 was as bad as things could get, but now we’re faced with more months of calamity.

For starters, we’re still wearing masks, two at once even. Who knows when we’ll be allowed in businesses without them, or worse, forced to listen to people rant about how it’s their right not to wear them on someone else’s private property?

Then there’s the news that the coronavirus is mutating into other potentially more awful ailments like people giving birth to aliens and small farm animals.

Oh, and the Capitol riot and the impeachment trial of former White House resident Donald Trump. If anything could make someone wish television had never been invented, it has to be that.

Food scarcity and increased cost. Kids attending school from home. Couples being forced by continuous proximity to reconsider why they married in the first place?

But instead of feeling put upon by these changes, we perhaps should contemplate how little it takes to set us off. After years of relative peace and plenty, is it possible that we’ve become a bit too comfortable?

Consider how you might have handled previous privations like the bubonic plague, the Inquisition, the Civil War, the Spanish flu epidemic, the Great Depression, World War II, and even the worst of all times — the great darkness before rock ‘n’ roll was invented.

If you couldn’t deal with 2020, ponder how well you might have fared in even worse times.

During the Spanish flu of 1918-20, some families in Utah lost four and five members within a week. In World War II, the Borgstrom family of Box Elder County had four of six sons killed in combat.

I’ve read lots of newspapers from those two time periods, and public reaction seemed to be considerably less selfish.

So let’s mourn those lost but give thanks that things aren’t worse. Given our expectation of privilege, we could easily fight another Civil War over a shortage of toilet paper.

It’s something I had to consider while living in a cast for the past two months. The cast was removed two days ago, and I’m still getting used to having two hands again. I’m happy. My wife is even happier. For those two months, she had to listen to me whine about how unfair life is.

Now I’m ashamed at how much I complained over something that was painful and inconvenient, but that I also knew was temporary. How bad would I have behaved if forced to deal with it permanently.

Tough times can be highly instructive, provided that we’re willing to look inward at what we can change instead of focusing on what we can’t.

Robert Kirby is The Salt Lake Tribune’s humor columnist. Follow Kirby on Facebook.

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