As years go, you know you sucked, right? Unfortunately, 2020, you also left a lot of leftover road, so I suspect you won’t be in the rear view mirror any time soon.
I doubt that there’s anyone who isn’t damn happy to wave the past year goodbye. We don’t need to doomscroll to remember just how awful it actually was. Yet, looking back in history, as years go, 2020 wasn’t even the worst — and COVID-19 isn’t the first pandemic to sweep the globe. It’s just the newest. This world has survived the Black Death, Spanish Flu, world wars and, as we step lightly into 2021, new strains of the virus are finding their way to unsuspecting victims. Yes, the vaccine troops have arrived to wage medicinal war on the pandemic, but it’s far from V-Day for the Virus, so the jury will be out for awhile on 2021.
“A new chapter. A new verse. Or the same old story? Ultimately, we write it. The choice is ours.” Alex Morritt
Now, I certainly didn’t mean to puncture the New Year bubble; just take it down a peg. If we open the door to nuovo anno with our eyes wide open, we are more likely to accept what comes without sticker shock, then recalibrate expectations. 2020 forced us to tweak our lives and ways of thinking in a dizzying kaleidoscope of ways, many of which will make us better, and more resilient, pandemic or not. Travel, work, holidays, even the most mundane of things, turned life on its head, forcing us to sink or swim. Most of us who could – swam. We took a good look at our priorities, and realized, unsurprisingly, that the lack of concerts and in-theater movies were a whole lot less important than giant hugs from our loved ones. We adjusted Zoom screens for work at home, and discovered hobbies we never knew we had a yen for. Who knew homemade sourdough bread would be a ‘thing’? A self-identified extrovert, even I discovered I was way more than okay with being quietly nested. I mean, who knew?
Nothing raises anxiety levels more than a worldwide pandemic that’s deadly enough to kill more than 350,000 people. New cases, new deaths every day brought depression, paranoia, grief, and exhaustion. And each of us reacted in different ways. Some of us rebelled, defied or ignored what was clearly happening all around us or we went with the flow, armed with a good dose of inner strength and outer compassion. We reverted to unhappy factory default settings, becoming the whiny, irritable, poor-me worst in the toolbox. Yet some, even in just as tough situations, strove every day toward positivity, generosity and optimism. Some suffered from depression, homelessness and hunger while too many struggled just to survive the virus, grief, loss of jobs and income. Though traumatic situations are never invited, when they crudely insinuate themselves into our lives we still can choose how to meet them.
“Year’s end is neither the end nor the beginning but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience instills in us” Hal Borland
Years don’t have magic reset buttons. And COVID could care less about calendars. We humans need a date, some arbitrary number on the calendar to say “Now. Now things are gonna change.” But, that’s not how it works. Oval office rage tweeting, murder hornets, truth decay and desert locusts make it hard to hope a new year won’t come with — and survive — old problems.
There’s no quick fix back to ‘the way we were’. Even when we get the green light to move forward, we’ve been conditioned to see it as a cautious yellow. Even many other countries, those who’ve accomplished a zero COVID transmission rate through stringent lock-downs and focused leadership, will take time to achieve an ‘Oh, get me those concert tickets now’ mindset. Aftershocks are real, too.
“Sometimes, a year has been so disastrous and so terrible that entering a new year will automatically mean entering a wonderful year!” Mehmet Murat ildan
Bad times, even terrible times, happen. They always will. The only thing we can ever control – is ourselves. So kiss 2020 goodbye, but still keep a safe distance, your sense of humor intact and your mask handy. It will be awhile until we fling ourselves into group hugs and loving intimacy we’re wired to need. But, there’s still much reason to channel Pollyanna. As more people are vaccinated, as warmer climes, directed organization and selfless leadership prevail, we will look back on our endless Blursdays and realize we were the lucky ones.
Maybe the realization that better times, though often hard to see, are actually behind door number 2 is a good reason for an extra dose of patience. That patience will be a big deal, especially when some weeks will still feel a whole lot more like Groundhog Day than Graduation. It might even help us look past our own entitled needs and perceived lacks of ‘freedom’ to those who have a whole lot less Door Dash and job security and a lot more worry about where their next meal is coming from. The best in us, instead, reaches out, steps back, and looks ahead. It also, in a time of virulent contagion, masks up to protect one another, just like we reflexively threw our arms over our kids to protect them before seatbelts we required. The world didn’t end last year; it only felt like it. And at a time when we were most ‘quarantined’, the most closed in, we were the most open to change, to awareness and kindness to one another.
So, keep a decent toilet paper supply on hand, as well as your Netflix subscription. Stay engaged. Plan a trip – for whenever. Between politics and pandemic, this new year may be another wild, twisty ride but you’ll cruise it out like you did the last. Okay, it won’t always be a joyful shout, but if done well, we’ll look back proud that we survived by looking out for both those we love as well as strangers who’ve suffered, lost and grieved more than we imagined.
Just like the year we just kicked to the curb, 2021 will not be for sissies.