The beginning of a new year is a time for looking both forward and back. Looking back at this time will bring very sad memories for many people who have suffered the loss of a loved one, or continuing illness, or financial hardship.
The coronavirus has devastated the lives of countless individuals, as well as taking its toll on whole economies. Life has gone wrong for so many people in so many ways because of it.
Yet, despite all of this, looking back can also be a time for giving thanks. Even when things have gone wrong, one can look for what has been, and still is, good.
In illness, one can give thanks for every care received and in bereavement thanks can be given for all that has been true and good in the lost one's life, for all the happiness and blessings received through that person.
Indeed, looking back over the past year will bring such mixed emotions.
Nor has there been a shortage of advice on how to cope with all the deprivations that the virus has brought.
One striking example of this was, simply, to look forward, to think of what awaits once the restrictions of the pandemic have been greatly eased, as surely will be the case with vaccination programmes now being rolled out.
Speaking to ITV's Julie Etchingham shortly before Christmas, Archbishop Justin Welby struck a real balance of perspective in relation to the past year, the present and the future when he said: "We're at the stage of the pandemic where it feels as though it's going to go on forever. It's not. This will come to an end. We don't know when, but it will. And then, please God, let's have the mother and father of all parties and celebration and weep for those we've lost and rejoice in those who've recovered and commit ourselves to a better country in the future."
Looking forward into 2021, there are certainly grounds for hope and for the expectation of a return to at least a relative normality. Yet, what are we to make of that new normality when it comes?
Will we lapse into old and less-than-constructive ways, or will we determine, as Archbishop Welby intimated, to play our part in making a better future for society at large?
Northern Ireland marks its centenary this year and the best way to do this will surely be to try to make it a learning experience, recognising that not everyone will feel the same about it, but also determining to come to a better understanding of the tumultuous events of 100 years ago on this island.
As for the pandemic, one of the most astonishing things about it has been the unprecedented speed with which effective vaccines have been developed.
Professor Fiona Watt, executive chair of the Medical Research Council, recently told the BBC that she is optimistic that scientists will learn from the experience and will do their scientific work better in the future.
In particular, she said the pandemic had accelerated the way in which scientists share information and that the scientific community has learnt new ways of collaborative working.
May 2021 bring us well and truly through to much better times and may we all in Northern Ireland learn lessons from the near, and more distant, past.
Canon Ian Ellis is a former editor of The Church of Ireland Gazette