The enormous signs, selling for just $9.99, greet shoppers at the suburban supermarket´s entryway, carrying a holiday message that means something very different this year: “GATHER,” they shout, even as the state´s governor urges citizens to do precisely otherwise. To come together or to stay apart: one of the countless, sometimes excruciating dilemmas that Americans find themselves caught between as a disheartening year is finally and enthusiastically shown the door. They´re caught between presidents, one of whom is clear that he really doesn´t want to go away. They´re between a ragged year of pandemic and either a successful vaccine or another chapter of upheaval. They´re between people on one side who say the country´s crashing and burning – and people on the other side who say the same thing. As most years wind to their ends, people in the United States press pause on life´s movie – if we can. We take stock, review successes and mistakes, make resolutions, vow it will be better this time. This year, buffeted by these December whirlwinds, Americans find themselves at a crossroads unlike any other in our history. This time around, though, the republic itself is caught in that in-betweenland right alongside us – exhausted by the year, stumbling to its conclusion. Hopeful, but unsure, about what comes next. Those who find their wisdom in song lyrics might find one 1970s hit appropriately captures the times: “Clowns to the left of me. Jokers to the right. Here I am, stuck in the middle with you.” A year ends. Another begins. Just like always. Yet like nothing ever before. This year, this moment of purgatory when American life perches between an unimaginably scrambled 2020 and a 2021 filled with unabashed hope, is different. “Don´t let yourself surrender to the fatigue,” President-elect Joe Biden said a few weeks ago. He was referring to the pandemic. He might as well have been talking about the entire year. As the December holidays inch along, the in-between moments are many and mystifying: – After 10 months of pandemic and lockdown, angst and anger and economic upheaval and death by the hundreds of thousands of souls, Americans are poised to receive – or to refuse to receive – vaccines that could mark the beginning of the end. – As a new president prepares to take office, the current one – a disputatious man who has upended uncounted political, social and civic norms during his one term in office – persists in his evidence-free insistence that he won the election. – Control of Congress is in the balance and will be until Jan. 5, when runoff elections in Georgia will decide the majority in the U.S. Senate – and impact uncounted chunks of 2021. – The centuries-long march toward American racial equality lurched forward vigorously in 2020 before the momentum paused or, at least, slowed – and produced some ugly backlash. What comes next? – Cultural polarization, its flames licking high from the bottomless propane tank that is social media, has split society into what feels like a million little pieces. There´s no obvious route back in 2021 – and, some have argued, there should not be. Yet fragmentation – sometimes the natural byproduct of democracy, which is messy and diverse by design – does not necessarily serve Americans well in this case. Unlike almost all other nations, the United States was created not around centuries of common culture. Instead, it has been stories that form the ties that bind: the city upon a hill. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. All men are created equal. Go west, young man. What 2020 revealed (and what some Americans have long said) is that those tales are not as true or inclusive as some would believe – that while this land embodies and nurtures some of those traits, swallowing the American story whole is a self-blinding endeavor.