It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times.

It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times. We thought 2020 was bad, 2021 said hold my beer.

Just when you thought we were out of the Covid woods, the pandemic came roaring back in the form of Delta, closely followed by Omicron. But hey at least we got a lesson in ancient Greek.

That team spirit of 2020 slowly began to fray into the scratchy mood of 2021, with anti-lockdown marchers calling for “freedom” from the “tyranny” of being given an injection to keep them well, and sociologists warned of the starkest social divisions in 40 years. And that was just in New Zealand…

With just over a week left of 2021 I’m calling time already. I need a lie down. Yet, despite all this doom and gloom, there were glimmers of hope this year.

The cows. Can cows be toilet trained? The University of Auckland in collaboration with colleagues in Germany, have worked out that they can be, which means potentially reducing both greenhouse gas pollution and water pollution, as cow urine has high levels of nitrate. Outdoor cow urinals may become a thing here.

The birds and the bats. It was global news when the New Zealand long-tailed bat, or pekapeka-tou-roa​, displaced the nation’s birds to win the coveted Bird of the Year title. Sure, there were the naysayers checking the fine print (a mammal isn’t a bird), but the award had the positive effect of putting a spotlight on this tiny, critically-endangered creature.

Here comes the sun. A $100 million solar power plant at Christchurch Airport will be 50 times larger than any similar set-up in New Zealand, and could power 30,000 homes and allow planes to recharge, according to an announcement in December.

Te Reo. The Broadcasting Standards Authority told the rest of New Zealand in March that it would stop hearing complaints about the Māori language. In other words, using te reo on TV or radio can no longer be considered a breach of broadcasting standards. Six months later, the Human Rights Commission said more or less the same thing: it would stop taking complaints about the use of te reo Māori or the word pākehā, as using an official language is not discriminatory. These small bureaucratic decisions have significant implications for the growing acceptance of te reo in Aotearoa.

The jobs. Unemployment fell to 3.4 per cent at the end of the September quarter, which is the lowest rate in 14 years. That might create problems for employers, but it is good news for workers.

The compassion. New Zealand became only the second country in the world to legislate for paid leave after a still birth or miscarriage, when Hutt South MP Ginny Andersen’s​ Bereavement Leave for Miscarriage Bill​ passed unanimously in March. This was also noticed internationally, both as a compassionate move and a step towards the ending of a taboo.

The sportspeople. Social distancing and travel bans meant 2021 wasn’t the greatest year for sport but hats off to two outstanding New Zealand champions: Lisa Carrington​, who won three gold medals at the delayed Tokyo Olympics, and Black Cap Ajaz Patel​, who became only the third bowler in test cricket history to take all 10 wickets in a test innings. It was also marvellous that Patel pulled off that feat in Mumbai, the city where he was born.

The scholars. Dunedin megaband Six60​ didn’t just buy the student flat they named themselves after, located at 660 Castle St, they created an annual scholarship with the University of Otago to fund four students who will live in the house and be mentored by the band.

I’m proud of us all for making it through another year. 2021 taught us all a valuable lesson on focusing on the little stuff not the big stuff. There’s this hope, assurance that things will get better than they are now – but if these last few years have taught us anything it’s that no one has that kind of answer. Because even if all the problems of today get magically fixed, our minds always still seem to perceive the inevitable negative of tomorrow.

So don’t hope for better. Just be better. Be something better. Be more compassionate, more resilient, more humble, more disciplined. Many people would also throw in there “be more human” but no – be a better human. And maybe, if we’re lucky one day we’ll get to be more than human. Who knows! But live your every day stuff with a sense of purpose and action as opposed to hope and a means.

This lull before 2022 is a opportunity to reflect on the little stuff and be grateful you’re here to appreciate it in the first place. And if all else fails, get yourself a dog.

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