Commentary: We Wait for ‘Next Year’

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The phrase “next year” has become more and more a part of our language these days. The other evening this became very apparent to me when I saw an ad for the Olympics that started with the title “Olympics 2020“ then did a flashy collage of pictures and short videos of our athletes preparing for it. The ad ended with “Olympics 2020ne.” 

Clever. Very clever. It speaks to something we are all going through. Who would have thought this past March that we would begin a litany that refers to all of the cancellations we’re enduring with the phrase “next year?”

As Labor Day drew near, and the Canfield Fair did not – canceled to the public because of the pandemic – I was reminded of my earlier years with my sister when our dad was working at a local grocery store on The Green in the center of Canfield. He would take my sister and me to work with him and drop us off at the fairgrounds where we spent the day and evenings working at the grandstand concessions with Mrs. Forney.

The fair menu was pretty much the same back then: sno-cones, caramel corn, chocolate-covered frozen bananas, cotton candy, foot-long hot dogs, french fries and the like. Whether it was working concessions beneath the grandstand or selling fair food among the crowds during the grandstand events, there was an excitement that filled the air with the sights and sounds and smells of an annual ritual that brought thousands and thousands of people to the fairgrounds and brought national entertainment acts here.

My first concert was hearing The Outsiders from Cleveland who sang, “Time Won’t Let Me” (yep, I’m dating myself – it was 1966). Now when I say it was my first concert, I have to admit that I was selling popcorn and sno-cones in the stands from a carrying tray. Still, I was there listening to a national group whose music was on the local radio stations. How cool was that!

Coverage of the fair always highlighted 4-H’ers and the countless hours that young people put into their projects. Gratefully, this year the organizers of county fairs across Ohio prepared safer environments so that 4-H’ers could show their projects, albeit without the crowds and onlookers.

This year I noticed an article about those who grow the gourds and pumpkins and other farm produce for the annual display. The litany with which I began this column finds its way into these articles: “next year … .”  

Usually, the article will continue with phrases such as “Wait until next year,” or “We’re already planning for next year,” or “Next year will be bigger and better.” Next year will be the 175th year of the Canfield Fair. Just wait!

“Next year” is a phrase we hear every day, sometimes several times a day. What began in mid-March as precautionary moves for safety have turned into wholesale cancellations of so much of what life is all about.

Think of the annual events, fundraisers, reunions, outings, anniversaries, memorials, vacations, gatherings and service projects that have been canceled. Then there are the once-in-a-lifetime moments that have been altered because of the pandemic.

Everywhere we turn, we are canceling something. “Next year” has become a refrain, a mantra, a call-to-action, a promise, a hope and an exciting way to harness our energy so that “next year” really will be something amazing. And it will be something.

Obviously, we cannot diminish the serious nature of how we must live our lives these days. But the driving energy of humanity is quite remarkable. Over and over again, we hear stories of real people doing truly heroic things.  

“Next year” is almost becoming a battle cry. And it’s not just about next year. It’s about harnessing our energy to do what needs to be done so that “next year” will be unlike any other.

We all have the things in our lives we miss because of the pandemic. Remember, though, that the things we miss are longed for because they involve people important to us. And many of these people are still with us.

So, keep in touch with them. Give them a call. Send a note. Email them. Contact them as best you can because “next year” will be something to celebrate. Yes, the way we live will be a bit different. But the reasons we live and gather and celebrate will be more appreciated than ever.

Who knows? Maybe next year my sister and I will head to the fair and offer to work a day or two for old times sake.

I can’t wait for next year!