PUBLISHER’S NOTEBOOK

Turning around in ‘21

Let’s hope we don’t double down on the ‘20

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As everyone’s least favorite year, 2020, turns into ’21, many are hopeful, and others are cautiously optimistic. Still others are downright pessimistic, worried about the economy and its impact on small businesses, remaining political unrest, slow distribution of vaccines, and potential new virus surges as winter hangs on.

None of us really knows what’s in store, but the human spirit, creativity and ingenuity have always risen to keep people from being down for too long.

To look for some positive signs about ’21, I looked around for some good 21s.

“Black jack!” is the cry when your cards add up to 21, earning you some money. That’s a good thing, right? And, there are multiple ways for your cards to reach that total. And, hopefully, there is more than one way to make things work out in 2021.

Turning 21 has always had significance in America. Until the voting age was lowered to 18, 21 marked the age of maturity of voting, and helping build democracy. Around the time the voting age was lowered, many states started raising the drinking age. So now, in all U.S. states, you can finally, legally, toast with an alcoholic beverage at age 21. Here’s to 2021!

Roberto Clemente, the greatest rightfielder in baseball history, wore No. 21.

Clemente, sadly, died Dec. 31, 1972, after the  season in which he recorded his 3,000th hit for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The native son of Puerto Rico was helping get supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. So, while his death was tragic, Clemente died doing what was most important to him: helping others.

He was also one of the most exciting, versatile players to ever play the game, and was a key player in two Pirate World Series victories.

The 21-gun salute is one of the highest honors governments can bestow for valor and honor.

On a clock based on military, or 24-hour time, when you’re looking at the time 21:21, some believe it means you are being visited by a guardian angel. We could all use one of those about now.

Indulge me for a minute as I head back into the world of sports. When my daughter Avalon was born in 2003, we had to stay in the hospital for a few days. The only things I remember watching on TV in the room are old reruns of “The Waltons” (in which actor Richard Thomas was 21 when the series started in 1972, with him playing John-Boy) and the NBA Finals between the Philadelphia 76ers and the San Antonio Spurs.  The Spurs, led by No. 21 Tim Duncan (who started playing with the Spurs at age 21), had won the NBA title in 1999, and came through with their second in 2003. With the quiet, steady non-flashy Duncan as their reliable big man and spiritual leader, the Spurs would win again in 2005, 2007 and, remarkably, 2014. That put 15 years between Duncan’s first and last titles, and made him one of only two players in NBA history to win championships in three different decades. Duncan, dubbed “The Big Fundamental” by his contemporary, Shaquille O’Neal, could inspire, uplift or reprimand teammates without a word. Just a certain smile or eyebrow lift would do the trick.

Maybe the world is due for some calm, quiet, effective leadership in 2021.

You, I hope, have your own positive memories associated with some iteration of the number 21, and can find some guidance from them.

As much as I find inspiration and joy in music, however, that might not be a path to go down for this number. You could find yourself stumbling into Merle Haggard’s classic “Mama Tried,” which includes the line “I turned 21 in prison, doing life without parole …”

The year 2021 will have to be better than that.

Richard Coltharp is publisher of Desert Exposure. He turned 21 in Oklahoma but would escape two years later.