By JIM SPEHAR

Little did I know, 364 days ago, how prophetic the opening paragraphs of my first column of 2021 would be.

They contrasted the optimistic outlook of my wife, whose new planner confirmed hope the fresh trip around the sun would be orderly, with that of her more anxious husband. Yours truly was “nervously waiting to see what happens to 2020 now that it’s (20)21 and old enough to drink.”

“I’m hoping for a cautious, quiet sipper,” I wrote, “but I’ll accept a passed out harmless drunk off in a dark corner somewhere.”

I got neither.

My description of 2020 as “a year full of chaos” was quickly “trumped.” Three days later, an angry mob stormed the U.S. Capitol, egged on by a departing president and conspiracy theories about an allegedly stolen election that remain unproven, but haunt us to this day. The most serious attack on our democracy since the Civil War was just the beginning of still another chaotic year.

That said, there are two ways to continue this first column of 2022. One would be a recitation of all we’ve endured over the past 12 months. Another would be to look forward, either with the aforementioned optimism or with trepidation, to what might be ahead.

Many of the issues that we confronted last year remain unsettled. But we’re given a fresh calendar that offers, as Oprah Winfrey once described it, “another chance for us to get it right.” I’m reminded weekly as readers respond to these columns that what’s “right” is certainly an open question no matter whether the issue is local, statewide or national.

We were a little schizophrenic in our responses to community issues during 2021.

In local elections, voters seated progressive new Grand Junction city council members, making a clear choice between them and an opposing slate with opposite stated philosophies. Later in the year, we made the opposite choices while, in the same election that seated an unabashedly conservative District 51 school board majority, we approved $115 million in debt to build a new high school.

If nothing else, its confirmation that almost anything can happen when only half of those eligible cast ballots. As the sage of Woody Creek, the late gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, once put it, “All the blood is drained out of democracy — it dies — when only half the population votes.”

We’ll test that premise again this new year in mid-term elections. One focus in the battle for control of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives will be President Biden’s legislative agenda. Successes include $1.9 trillion in COVID relief, $1 trillion in infrastructure spending and a significantly lower unemployment rate. Failures, at least so far, include voting rights, inflation and Build Back Better legislation.

Targeting, particularly by fellow Democrats, of Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema as roadblocks to Build Back Better puzzled me last year. Why not moderate Republicans like Mitt Romney and Lisa Murkowski, perhaps even Susan Collins? And certainly the five retiring GOP senators usually considered more moderate, Burr, Toomey, Portman, Shelby and Blunt, who’d face no political consequences for crossing the aisle? Shouldn’t there be at least one or two John McCains among them?

The examples cited, and there are many more, are merely symptoms of a bigger problem. That’s the seeming inability of all of us to work together for the common good, to include what’s become a dirty word, compromise, in our efforts. How quickly we consider those who disagree with us as “enemies” rather than fellow citizens who’ve looked at the same set of circumstances and reached a different conclusion. Every ideological hill becomes one to die on.

Recently I enjoyed a long-delayed lunch with one of my Colorado political heroes. My side of the table presented arguments for returning to a time when political discourse was more courteous. His side countered that returning to the past was not a recipe for success, that instead we needed to build some new type of more inclusive future. I suspect he’s right.

The only thing certain about this New Year is that it’s a story yet to be written. We’ll see, over the next 12 months, whether we’ll trudge on the treadmill of the past or find new ways to deal with the challenges of 2022.

“Now is the accepted time to make your annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.” — Mark Twain

Jim Spehar is anxious to see just how Happy our New Year might be. Comments welcome to speharjim@gmail.com.