Fellow citizens, despite its scandalous provenance, the saying “Out with the old, in with the new” is always appropriate on New Year’s Day. The inclination is to discard or leave behind the last twelve months, especially those parts that were grim and eagerly embrace the fresh possibilities, opportunities and perspectives glimmering on the horizon.

For many, 2022 could not come quickly enough. Last year was by some accounts, an annus horribilis—a year of disaster and misfortune, with more hardship, illness and death than at any time in recent memory. Our very way of life was disrupted. Covid-19 and its consequences were the root cause of much of the trouble and suffering. In addition, we weathered constitutional conundrums, registered yet another unacceptable murder toll, including grisly killings of our women folk and assassinations of our prison officers, bore the heart-breaking loss of three young children to fire, experienced the destructive and deadly effects of climate change, discovered fourteen corpses in a boat off Tobago and endured much more.

But in justifiable haste to put the old year in the rear-view mirror be careful not to throw out the champagne with the cork. Individually and collectively, we must revisit the occurrences and experiences of the past year—and there were good ones tucked in between—in order to extract the salutary lessons that can serve as cautionary tale, constructive model or source of inspiration. Like the pearl hunter, we dive to the bottom, collect what we can and surface, treasure in hand.

In every exercise it is good to start on a positive note and as the recently departed Archbishop Desmond Tutu observed, “nothing beautiful in the end comes without a measure of some pain, some frustration”. The trials and tribulations of 2021 brought out in many of us, resilience, creativity and ingenuity that we may not have known we possessed. We pivoted like a boss, discovering new ways of doing old business and better yet, conceiving entirely new businesses. This indomitable pioneering spirit is surely one to bring into the new year.

In our reaction to Covid-19, we saw two sides of the same coin. Incredible acts of selflessness were and are still being demonstrated by our frontline healthcare workers. Gruelling shifts, psychological trauma and vulnerability to contracting the disease were par for the course, and yet they soldiered on for the good of us all.

Apart from the healthcare workers, many good Samaritans emerged, including the Bilda Boyz who thoughtfully provided chairs and tents for weary vaccination-seekers, businessmen who offered their premises free of charge to be used as vaccination sites, and the many persons who provided hampers for the needy. And we cannot forget those who did their best to follow the regulations to a T, sometimes to their own inconvenience and discomfort, in the hope of safeguarding the health of their families, co-workers and themselves. And then, we had those that didn’t give a damn about others and apparently even about themselves, courting infection by disregarding the regulations, cramming stores for the sake of a bargain, wearing masks like necklaces and even going to the extent of utilising fake vaccination cards.

It goes without saying which attitudes need to be left behind and which go forward.

We would do well to pay close attention to the warning to be found in the Covid-19 death count, especially over the last few months. Consonant with the international experience, the data provided by our epidemiologists prove beyond dispute that approximately 90 percent of casualties are unvaccinated. It is a fact we ignore to our peril. Even we laymen have noticed that the numbers of the infected rise significantly shortly after indiscriminate gatherings in large number. Our personal actions and behaviours are inextricably linked to the future of our nation. The writing is on the wall, ‘yuh big and yuh have sense’.

Removing our Covid blinders for a moment, we recognise the civic-mindedness of the Hunters Search and Rescue Team which altruistically assists law enforcement in searching for missing persons, the citizen who instinctively protected and comforted a young girl at the scene of the murder of her father and the countless, nameless others who operate quietly in their sphere to alleviate the distress of others.

2021 saw an outpouring of social and political activism, and whether or not you were in support of the various causes, it was heartening to see our citizens shaken out of their usual apathy and taking a position, vigorously campaigning to bring about the change they desired. If this fervour can be sustained, harnessed and actioned within the confines of the law, the regulations and good sense, it will be to our benefit as a society.

The foregoing are but some of the matters to be considered in our study of what outlooks and approaches to cast off along with 2021 and which to import into 2022. As we step into the new year, cautiously optimistic, we reconcile ourselves to living with the pandemic for some time to come, but let the emphasis be on the word ‘living’. Commit to living purposefully, living intentionally, living unselfishly and living joyously. Only in that way will we be able to fulfil our vision of a peaceful and prosperous Trinidad and Tobago.

I wish you a safe, productive and happy New Year and may God bless our nation.