Many of us began 2020 taking for granted the relative comfort and freedom we enjoyed — to get whatever we wanted, when we wanted it; and to do what we wanted to do, when and with whom we chose.
While not everyone experienced the same level of wealth, health, luck and happiness, most of us expected or hoped to do as well or better in the coming year as we had done in the last. But in a dramatic fashion, we learned that we didn’t know what we thought we knew.
So many truisms about daily life went out the window in 2020 — and larger lessons about ourselves and our fellow man and woman were forced upon us, like it or not. Musing about the lessons learned in a pandemic may seem like the province of the privileged — especially while others around us are too exhausted or stricken to think at all. Yet, those of us privileged to emerge from 2020 having escaped great loss surely have a duty to do so as better people.
So, here’s a reflection on what we thought we knew about both the mundane and the important, which often seemed to merge.
We thought we preferred sleeping in on Sundays. We learned how much attending church in person meant.
We thought we’d always dread switching from weekend to work mode on Sunday nights. We learned that it was better than having no work at all or too much “essential” work.
We thought we had to “do something” on weekends that was worth telling coworkers about or posting pictures of on social media. We learned to appreciate things we once deemed boring, such as jigsaw puzzles and board games with family.
We thought the elections and the superiority of our side were the most important topics of 2020. We learned that personal relationships and communities are more important than political opinions.
We thought we’d always buy our bread at the grocery store. We learned how to bake sourdough bread — and to cook more of our meals rather than relying on convenience food.
We thought we were immune to panic buying. When supplies seemed to be dwindling, we found ourselves grabbing extra items — or things we didn’t even normally buy — with no thought for our neighbors.
We thought we’d never tire of binge-watching Netflix until we did — and we learned that a book can still be absorbing and mind-expanding.
We took for granted the people who: teach public school (glorified babysitters), work in checkout lines (too slow), run small businesses (charge too much), drive trucks (too fast), provide health care (don’t listen), respond to emergencies (always asking for donations), volunteer (it would be nice to have the time), deliver mail (too slow). We had a complaint about nearly everyone — until we learned how wrong we were.
To the above list, we could add hairstylists, tech support, veterinarians, plumbers and all types of repair people; pastors who’ve kept congregations connected; and local farmers who’ve given away truckloads of eggs and milk, no questions asked.
We thought we needed so many things: the latest fashions, kitchen gadgets and digital devices; our favorite food and beverages always at hand; our preferred product brands. We learned to use what we already have.
Most important, we thought we were in control. Now we know that whatever is the “new normal” will continue to change regardless of our wishes.
Who knows how long the lessons of 2020 will stick. But our best possible resolution for 2021 might be to welcome the new year with a lot more humility, patience, empathy and gratitude.
An editorial from Harrisburg Patriot News/Pennlive.com.