The month of January is named after the Roman God, Janus, the God of beginnings, transitions and time; and as we enter 2023 it should be a time of renewed hope and new beginnings.

But hope is sadly lacking for many.

Janus is depicted as having two faces, looking in opposite directions, back and forward. So, what better time of year to look back at past mistakes in order to look forward to better things.

If there’s such a thing as ‘normal’ any more, perhaps this New Year was close to returning to the way it used to be at that time of year. Perhaps.

I know of one young person who seemed incredibly determined to go out on New Year’s Eve and when I asked why, he explained that in the last two years he hadn’t been able to socialise to ring in the new.

Two years ago, the pandemic closed most places down and last year, he’d had the dreaded Covid himself.

So, out he headed, and lo and behold the pubs were so packed and uncomfortable he headed home at 11.30 and saw in the New Year in front of the telly like the rest of us boring golden oldies.

All very normal. But after all the challenges of 2020, 21 and 22 are we in a new normal now, or have we taken on the lessons which we should have learned during those times?

Changes we’ve seen over those short few years have meant that, actually, many people are struggling more than ever and for them this new year is every bit as challenging as the old one. Maybe even more so.

The American writer, James Baldwin said: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

Surely, the pandemic has taught us many things that we need to face up to. For starters, I recall Boris Johnson on the steps of 10 Downing Street clapping our NHS workers for the marvellous job they did, and the sacrifices they made, during Covid.

Where is that support now? Where is the lesson Government learned that the best way to show health service workers how they’re valued is to pay them properly instead of watching and listening to the spin and deceit which right-wing commentators spout daily in demeaning the cases of nurses and other working people.

If we didn’t already know it, we’ve learned that the Conservatives would make their mega-rich pals even richer with dodgy PPE deals.

Indeed, there were other lessons in the way we approached the pandemic and serious questions are now being asked about the way we locked everything down; we were warned about the effects it would have on our immune system or our mental health, particularly children who were denied the natural company of others.

It is, I suppose, easy to be wise after the event, but of course that’s the point…..that we should learn from the past and do things better.

And if the stress was on the NHS during Covid, surely those in authority saw how years of mismanagement has severely impacted our precious health service.

Are they taking steps to improve it?

Just this past Christmas night, I received a call from an 86-year-old acquaintance who was struggling and just wanted to talk. He’d spent an horrendous couple of days trying to cope in caring for his wife who hasn’t been well for a while but who’d taken a turn for the worse.

The poor man was at his wit’s end still waiting for an ambulance which he’d called nine hours earlier. My heart went out to him as I pondered why so many people in our own country were being left vulnerable.

Sadly, the man is far from alone.

People waiting in distress for an ambulance that takes forever, or may not even come. People sitting in A and E for hour upon hour, or even told not to come to seriously under-pressure A and E departments.

People waiting in pain for much needed medical treatment, through to families struggling to get care packages to get their loved ones home.

It’s not just the health service, though, is it. The fuel crisis, food banks……we keep saying these things but it keeps going on.

It’s absolutely devastating and horrifying to see the heartbreak of friends and loved ones of victims of violence against women, so where is society’s outcry. And we still have many people failing to get the help they need for mental health issues.

So, it’s appropriate to learn from the past, to remember and change and to move forward with a greater sense of hope. Without hope, it’s a bleak future, and there are far too many of our fellow citizens who see little sign of hope in the early stages of 2023.

Religious people often talk about their hope for a better afterlife. But for many people with or without a faith, there is a pressing need for hope in the here and now, and there is a need for a greater sense of community, of empathy, to give us all hope to get through difficult times.

It’s a reminder we can all play our part in showing compassion and empathy for others; when it comes to “hope for the future” the saying “we’re all in this together” seems to be as appropriate as ever as we search for new beginnings.

Indeed, another lesson from the pandemic was that there are many, many good people who showed a generosity of spirit to others during lockdown.

I’ve been doing a number of ‘Thought for the Day’ contributions on BBC Radio Ulster and this week I referred to a quotation used by Bobby Kennedy, the assassinated American Senator and brother of President John F Kennedy. The quote was originally written by George Bernard Shaw.

“Some people see things as they are and say, why? I dream of things that never were and say, why not?”

The Kennedys were inspired by it in the 1960s in dealing with the maelstrom of United States’ difficulties with war in Vietnam and racism and poverty at home. Shaw wrote it in different times many years earlier.

It just seems to me that now, in the 21st century, it could equally apply today in our approach to the uncertainty and struggle that many of our neighbours are facing.

Sometimes it seems our humanity is so lacking that we accept too much as normal.

If we want to build a better, fairer and more caring society, we need to take practical steps to achieve it, not just dream of it. And collectively raise our voices and ask “why not”?

I read recently that we should look at every new day, not just every new year, as a new page. The blank page is an opportunity for us which we should not pass up.

If you are making any New Year Resolution, resolve to learn the lessons of the past and make our society a better place in 2023 and beyond.