Perhaps it’s too soon for us to be very objective about the year that’s about to pass. Certainly, historians will have much to say in years to come about how we suffered and survived, what forces were at work in the systems and institutions of our time. But I’m a perpetual student, always trying to parse what learning is available in the circumstances and experiences of life. So here’s a preliminary list of things I’ve learned or relearned in 2020.
First, life can turn on a dime. Everyone learns this eventually. But it’s an uncomfortable truth and readily ignored, whenever possible. Sudden change – big, consequential, sometimes terrifying change – can happen at any time, in any place and in any life. Life really can be going along just fine, when bam! Out of the blue, disaster strikes. Covid-19 crashed into our consciousness for real in the midst of March, when we found ourselves dealing with “stay at home” orders and health threats that rattled us to the core. Such a thing had never happened to us, never even been imagined by most of us. Suddenly, what was “normal” life the first week of March had been turned completely on its head and everything from work to school to grocery shopping to being with friends had to be radically reconsidered.
Second, leadership matters. Before this current administration I would have not considered the U.S. president to be much of an influencer when it comes to public behavior. But this president has refused to promote the common good, and has rejected simple, scientifically solid prevention measures, and thousands have followed him, much to our detriment. If we could have avoided politicizing public health policy, we might have saved thousands of lives.
Some seem to have forgotten that we belong to one another. It’s imperative that we learn and remember this as we move forward. The stubborn individualists that refused to adopt simple protocols like mask-wearing for the sake of the greater good serve as a harsh reminder of just how far down the road of “every man/woman for him/herself” we’ve come. It’s confounding and disheartening. After all, we all breathe the same air. Unless you have your own personal supply of air, you have a responsibility to me and everyone else who breathes around you. My health is my own responsibility? Yes. And no. Our collective health is our collective responsibility.
We really are all in this together. We really do have to look out for one another. Not just because it’s right – “Love your neighbor as yourself” should sound familiar to most of you – but because it’s the fastest way to get through this. It’s not just common good; it’s common sense.
Finally, my biggest takeaway from the 2020 pandemic is this: the ability of human beings to endure and to adapt – to pivot, they say – is astounding! This has been so hard, and yet we’ve done it. Every single business, every single church, every single home, every single person had to change how they lived, some much than others, those at the bottom most of all. And not discounting the many losses, nor denying the need to grieve what we’ve lost, it’s still surprising the new ways that blessings have come.
Virtual choirs, Zoom meetings, tele-health, Zoom happy hours, working from home, entertainment work-arounds, worship via Facebook Live and so much more. Such creativity! And most especially the work of teachers, parents, students and medical professionals. Such fortitude!
I’m not claiming that any of this easy or over with. I know we are desperate for relief. But how many times did we say “I can’t do this” and then went ahead and did it? We are stronger than we thought we were. This, too, is worth remembering.
So good-bye, 2020. Someday our grandchildren will be talking about you to their grandchildren. I’m praying that they’ll be able to say it was a turning point in our history. That after the suffering of 2020 we became kinder, wiser people who learned to take better care of the earth and each other. Please God, may it be so.