If you managed to stay up late, you probably already knew: The very first moments of 2021 arrived with weird vibes. New York’s traditional New Year’s Eve celebration was uncharacteristically muted. No sloppy kissing crowds jammed into Times Square, no messy bar crawls through the streets.
As the year ticked on, we had no boners — and we had no bones: Noodle the pug, a dog in a perpetual state of melting, showed up on TikTok skillfully illustrating the limp limbs of limbo. Given a chance to get out of bed, Noodle would often “crumple with ennui.” So did many of us.
Signs of disruption turned up from the start. The U.S. Capitol was attacked by rioters on Jan. 6, including a shirtless man wearing a horned helmet, people waving Confederate flags, someone in a sweatshirt with the words “Camp Auschwitz” on it and others wielding red-and-white flags representing the Republic of Georgia.
Just two days later, as the country caught a breath, an angsty song about a driver’s license became the anthem we didn’t know we needed. On Jan. 20, Twitter and Instagram were saturated with memes of Senator Bernie Sanders in a folding chair with his arms and legs crossed, hand-knit mittens on display. Waiting patiently for it all to end.
By March, after one full year of the global pandemic, 500,000 Americans had died from Covid-19. The rest of us were mired in the quicksand of limbo. Limbo as in waiting, limbo as in neither here nor there, limbo as in bending over backward in an attempt to move forward beneath a bar that continues to fall lower and lower.
There was a sense that those of us who had survived had perhaps gotten through the worst of it. We were alive!
But we were not exactly flourishing. We had soured on baking sourdough, and unless you accidentally joined a Zoom meeting as a wide-eyed kitten, the delicious zeal of, “I work from home!” had frayed into the more bitter-tasting, “I live at work.”
Limbo can be fun, though, right? Chubby Checker sang a bouncy Caribbean-flavored song about it! “Every limbo boy and girl, all around the limbo world — gonna do the limbo rock, all around the limbo clock.” Just lean back and advance carefully: That’s the way you play. So we tried.
But the vaccine had not yet been approved for children and uncertainty about school loomed. And just when we thought we’d gotten a handle on all of the virus’s idiosyncrasies and mastered some epidemiological terminology? Behold, the Delta variant.
Each new development required additional time for processing, yet nothing added up. Weed was legalized in a bunch of states, but Daft Punk split up? Spaceships from China and the United Arab Emirates went to Mars, but “I May Destroy You” was snubbed at the Golden Globe Awards? The government admitted U.F.O.s exist but also confessed we don’t know where they come from? What was happening?
Trapped in what felt like an everlasting loop, one day indistinguishable from the next, some experts labeled the collective feeling of joyless aimlessness. They called it languishing. But the trigger for the pandemic blahs was really the feeling of being paralyzed.
At the end of March, a large container ship called the Ever Given sailed into the Suez Canal and got stuck. We said: SAME. At that point who among us couldn’t identify with being grounded, unable to pivot, out of control enough to cause an international incident?
After six days, the boat became unstuck; we did not. The days churned on. Waiting, waiting everywhere. Waiting for vaccine slots, waiting at gas lines, waiting for passports, waiting at borders. Would there be a return to office? We’d have to wait and see.
Dante describes limbo as a valley so deep you can’t see the bottom, a “woeful abyss” that “gathers in thunder of infinite wailings.” We slogged through, with no end in sight, and there was wailing.
Chugging along, we rode a roller coaster of emotional ups and downs at breakneck speed, some within the same news cycle: Sha’Carri Richardson waited an entire additional year for the Olympic trials, qualified as America’s fastest woman, tested positive for marijuana and was suspended for a month, just to miss the Olympics altogether. OnlyFans banned explicit content, then reversed that decision. Very rich men left the planet; then immediately returned.
Limbo lower now! How low can you go?
As we settled into our second pandemic fall, we were informed of unsavory details about one of the few ways we have to connect during limbo, social media. To delete or not to delete? Let’s just wait and see. But then Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp went down. For hours. Leaving billions of us in communication limbo. Undeterred, we gathered around screens to get some relief by watching contestants attempt to survive prison-limbo in the ultraviolent “Squid Game.”
Now, Omicron is on the horizon — or at our front doors — wreaking havoc and panic in corners of media, and winter is creeping in to cloak us in chill and darkness. But there’s a teeny glimmer of hope: Tourists are trickling back into New York and New Year’s Eve in Times Square is expected to return at “full strength.”
What will 2022 bring? Neither historical data nor an oracle pug can actually predict the future. We might not be in the clear just yet, but at least we now have a lot of practice. Here’s a toast to raising the bar — again.