By Bud Herron
For The Republic
For many years, my family spent New Year’s Day huddled around a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle set up on a card table in the middle of our living room, the Rose Bowl parade lumbering across our television screen in the background and the smell of cabbage rolls hanging in the air like the overripe carcass of a fallen reindeer.
The parade was for background noise. The jigsaw puzzle was to distract us from the fact that tradition required us eventually to eat the cabbage rolls — a good luck preventative medication to ensure a happy new year.
Of course, the cabbage rolls only proved marginally effective, the jigsaw puzzle box sometimes only contained 999 pieces and — from time to time — Mickey Mouse would struggle out of his restraints and disappear somewhere in the sky over Pasadena, California.
The day was never perfect. Neither were any of the years that followed. Still, love, hope, healing, goodness and joy lived on.
Sometime in February, we usually were able to locate the missing puzzle piece in the cat’s bed — chewed a bit but still able to complete the picture of London Bridge.
Sometime in early April, a warm day arrived and we were able to open our windows long enough to replace the smell of the deer carcass with that of spring flowers.
Sometime in June, Mickey Mouse mysteriously floated down on a school playground in the Fiji Islands and delighted 150 children during recess.
Our nation and our world have just completed two of the most traumatic years in living memory — years when our usual, personal struggles have been joined by the every-person tragedy of a frightening, deadly global pandemic.
As 2022 begins, that pandemic continues to rage, in spite of the nearly miraculous strides made by medical science to bring it under control. Worldwide economies still struggle in its wake.
People are dying daily in nations where poverty and lack of access to the coronavirus vaccines loom large.
Americans continue to die daily, often because of belief in conspiracy theories, exposure to self-serving lies on social media, unscrupulous television commentators, political manipulation and general ignorance about the vaccines.
These problems will not be solved in 2022 by a missing puzzle piece, the smell of spring flowers or a magical Mickey Mouse floating down from the sky. The problems of 2022 will not even be solved by some miraculous end to the pandemic.
The problem is the impact of the “long-haul” social and cultural illness left in the wake of the past two years of misinformation, suspicion, hatred, paranoia and fear — an illness that lives in our minds and hearts, uncured by any vaccine.
America must find a way to become one nation again. That doesn’t mean a nation where everyone is in agreement about everything.
But it does mean a nation where disagreement is respected and respectful; where representative democracy is a sacred trust held dear across the political spectrum; where we elect representatives to find solutions to problems rather than simply destroy the opposition for the sake of re-election.
And, overarching everything, must be a return to respect for truth, discovered through facts and accepted by even those who wish reality were otherwise.