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Worst. Year. Ever?

History shows really bad years lead to very good ones.

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I think about 1968 often — mainly because it is the year of my birth, but also because I’m aware of its designation as “the worst year in American history.” Now that isn’t official, but it is mentioned enough that if you Google “worst year in American history,” it comes up way too often to give it any deniability.

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For those too young to remember, or old enough not to try, 1968 was a tumultuous time in the American story. An election year filled with all the uncertainty that brings, 1968 was marked by the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. The Vietnam War played on living room TVs each night, with ’68 holding the largest loss of American lives during the conflict. Protests and rioting for racial equality dotted the country, and it even had its own pandemic in the H3N2 influenza, known infamously as the Hong Kong Flu.

So “worst year” seems pretty well earned (seriously — I’ve barely scratched the surface; check out James Fallows’ article “Is This the Worst Year in Modern American History?” in The Atlantic for a fuller rundown), although now it looks like we have a serious contender in 2020. However, this year is barely halfway through, and there still is a chance it can all turn around. There’s always a chance.

Sure, 1968 didn’t turn itself around, but let’s look at 1969 — which was a pretty amazing year, especially considering the trainwreck that preceded it.

If the moon landing was the only thing that happened in 1969, it would be enough to make it a very good year. Only seven years after President John F. Kennedy said, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard,” Neil Armstrong’s step made it a reality. That giant leap for mankind captured the world’s attention, and proved the power of American ingenuity and drive.

Speaking of ingenuity, 1969 also introduced the world to Sesame Street, which was created by Joan Gantz Cooney to help underprivileged children prepare for kindergarten, but wound up teaching kids all over the world. As a first-generation Sesame Street kid, although outside the target demographic (I was raised in the suburbs of New York), this show was tremendously influential to me, and if you want to learn about its origins and how much care and thought was put into its content and structure, I cannot recommend the book Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street by Michael Davis enough.

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The Beatles’ Abbey Road was released in ’69, and, yes, it wasn’t made in America, but we first got to listen to it here! Although we had our own things going on musically, including a surprisingly mobbed muddy music fest in Woodstock, NY (well, near Woodstock in Bethel, NY, but most people outside of the state don’t care about that). Three days, 400,000 people, and 32 acts — many of them now considered legends — added up to a pivotal moment for the counterculture generation. And if you left early to avoid traffic, you missed one heck of a closer in Jimi Hendrix and his literally flaming guitar (who played to about 200,000 people).

So, yes, you can tick off the problems and issues we face in 2020 across all your fingers and a few toes, but that doesn’t mean there is not a wealth of great things coming around the corner.

And if you need final proof, need I remind you that 1969 is the year the NY Mets went from last place to winning the World Series?

Stay safe. Hang in there. Better times are coming.

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