A Love Letter to the Worst Year
There are a million reasons to say good riddance to 2020. But let's also remember what it taught us
So here we are, a month into the long-awaited, much anticipated year 2021.
All throughout December I noticed “goodbye and good riddance to 2020” jokes. And with good reason. Life as we knew it changed in an instant in 2020, with the outbreak of the worst pandemic of our lifetimes. It’s no wonder we were more than ready to say goodbye to 2020 and welcome 2021.
But now 2021 has finally arrived, and we find ourselves still waiting. Waiting for the vaccine, waiting for our kids to have the college experience we always expected for them, waiting to get back to the gym, to dine indoors in a restaurant, to travel, to celebrate milestones in person, waiting for normalcy to return. I recognize that the change we all crave will not happen in an instant, simply because we turned the page to a new calendar year.
We need to have patience, a skill we surely perfected in 2020.
So, as we forge ahead into 2021 and while we wait, I wonder if we can turn our attention to what else we learned in 2020 before we shut the door completely on that unprecedented year?
We learned to slow down, because there was no place to rush to.
We learned to live in the present moment, because it was impossible to plan anything.
We learned to revel in the beauty of nature, because even as the virus raged, the cherry blossoms bloomed, the birds chirped, and the pink sky burst into an array of magical pastels at sunset.
We learned to nourish and appreciate our physical and mental health.
We nurtured the friendships that were important to us. We let go of the ones that did not serve us. We reached out to friends we had lost touch with to make sure they were okay.
We had more family time than ever before. We looked to our dogs with wonder, because they did not know and did not care about the virus. They simply wagged their tails, asking for our love and attention and continued to give us theirs.
I became an empty nester in 2020. And while I missed my son and daughter and our full house, I was thankful for each day that they were able to spend away at school, because in 2020, an open college campus was not a given but a gift.
My kids had hope. They were optimistic and resilient.
My daughter left for her freshman year of college under circumstances I never could have imagined. “Take a gap year,” people said. “Wait until things are normal.” But determined and ready, she went and she thrived — making new friends, attending both in-person and virtual classes, participating in tennis practice with her teammates despite cancelled competition, and writing for the school newspaper.
I connected with the moms of my daughter’s new friends when her roommate tested positive for COVID-19 and they all went into quarantine. No, we did not meet on Parents’ Weekend, because in 2020 there was no such thing. Instead, we had and continue to have real, honest, and heartfelt conversations on a group text.
My son, whose junior year semester abroad in Spain came to an abrupt end last spring, wished for a “normal” senior year. At a school where large social gatherings, Greek life, and athletic events are an inherent part of the culture, he had to shift gears. He took up golf, visited local lakes and vineyards with close friends, and adapted. When he returned home for Thanksgiving, he seemed mature, thoughtful, and content.
My family fled our home in New York City for the country, in March 2020, returning six months later. The open space and the sound of the wind between the trees was soothing. I found solace in beach walks, listening to the waves crash against the shore. I was grateful for each day my family woke up safe and healthy. Writing served as a distraction from worrying.
When my husband and I returned to the city in the fall of 2020, I noticed something unexpected. People in my neighborhood seemed kinder, friendlier and calmer. The usual frenetic pace was missing. Maybe it was the masks, but it seemed to me that we looked each other in the eyes when speaking in a way we might not have before.
Central Park, my happy place, felt more magnificent than ever. The autumn leaves in vibrant colors of gold, orange, and red sparkled in the sunlight. Dog walks and exercise walks with friends who I had not seen in six months became treasured moments.
Every night before I go to sleep, I focus on three things I am grateful for that happened on that day. It could be something as small as a delicious cup of soup at lunch. In 2020 the things I am grateful for in the larger sense became crystal clear: health, family, friends, dogs, nature, sunshine, fresh air, blue skies, sunsets, walks, writing.
2021, I hope you bring an end to this pandemic. I hope we can hug our friends, put our masks away, see the expression on each other’s faces, travel. I hope we can do away with the phrase “social distancing.” I hope that my son has an in-person college graduation in May, and that families will be able to attend. I hope that not another person suffers from this disease.
But 2020, let’s never forget what you taught us. Kindness, gratitude, patience, resilience, to be present, to have hope, to pay attention to our surroundings, to never take anything for granted. I hope we carry these lessons with us as we move forward in 2021 and always.