A few days from now and not a moment too soon, we say farewell to the Ohs.
Once upon a time, it was common to debate names for this first decade of the new millennium. We’d seen the Gay Nineties, the Roaring Twenties, the Swinging Sixties, we’d endured the Me Decade, the Greed Decade, The War Years, and people wondered what nickname should be attached to the Ohs.
Maybe you will agree it’d be fitting to call them the Uh-Ohs. As in that interjection you mutter when the excreta hits the ventilation device, that word you whisper when the wheels come off the bicycle, that thing you say when things fall apart. The Ohs were a whole decade in which things fell apart — things you’d thought were built to last, things you depended on without having to think too much about them, things that were the very bones and core and soul and sinew of who we are. Or at least, of who we thought we were.
Then democracy fell apart in a blizzard of hanging chads, a presidential election whose winner no one really knows to this day, a decision by the Supreme Court that chose our 43rd chief executive.
Our sense of security fell apart, foreign terrorists bringing their grievances to our shores in a spectacular fashion never seen before, proud towers disintegrating, an iconic building pierced, smoke rising above a Pennsylvania field, 3,000 people gone.
American exceptionalism fell apart, our understanding of ourselves as history’s white hats and good guys crumbling under revelations of torture and malfeasance starkly at odds with that benign and reassuring self-image.
Can-do fell apart, civilization fell apart, New Orleans drowning and its trapped people turning feral and mean while those whose job it was to rescue them bungled, bickered, pointed fingers and otherwise acquitted themselves with all the smooth efficiency of the Keystone Kops.
The economy fell apart, wealth disappearing, jobs vanishing, surplus shrinking to deficit, the nation in hock to China to bail out banks too big to fail and brother, can you spare a dime?
Journalism fell apart, the very idea and ideal of authoritativeness and indisputability lost in a static of Tweets and blogs, of newspaper deaths, fair-and-balanced bias and competing truths.
The world fell apart, glaciers turning to icebergs, icebergs turning to ice water, dire predictions of irrevocable change due to planetary warming caused by human behavior, the snows receding on Mount Kilimanjaro.
On Nov. 19, 2004, basketball player Ron Artest ignited arguably the worst brawl in U.S. sports history when he went into the stands after a fan who’d pelted him with a cup of liquid. The resulting riot — players charging into the stands, fans rushing onto the floor, punching, stampeding, trampling — was so bad referees had to cancel the last seconds of the game.
Five years later, it seems an apt metaphor for the age: civilization suspended, words failing, angry people crossing lines never crossed before to fight one another just because.
And yet, we’re still here, still standing. There is something to be said for that; it is no small feat to still be standing in times so tumultuous, times when the very bedrock of your identity wobbles like Jell-O. That was the Uh-Ohs and the best thing you can say about them is that they are almost over.
We are people of an astounding capacity for resilience, redemption, renewal, reinvention. Change is our birthright — for proof, look no further than the new guy in the White House. So this era of hardship is finite by definition. This too shall pass away.
Something to remember in the last minute of Dec. 31 as the clock ticks relentlessly toward the new, the next. A toast to give when you raise your glass high.
Here’s to better days.