Let’s just state the obvious: 2020 has been a disaster. We should’ve known from the first weeks of the year when tensions rose between the United States and Iran to the point of firing missiles that it wasn’t going to be easy. However, even with that in mind, we couldn’t have predicted what was to come: a pandemic with nearly 240,000 Americans dead; killings of Black men and women followed by protests and calls for change like we hadn’t seen in years; a divisiveness that has seemed to permeate to each aspect of life; and a totality of events that has been exhausting, heartbreaking, and shaking all in one.
In the simplest terms, the world has experienced a challenging year. Personally, my emotions now lie so close to the surface that I can tear up at the drop of the hat (thank you, TikToks of Joe Biden comforting children). But to say I can find no gratitude this year is far from true. If anything, this year has forced us to take stock of our lives, our mortality, and that of those we love.
As I look back on 2020, here are few of the things to which I’m raising my glass in gratefulness.
No matter the stressors this year has brought, I know that I am lucky. I do not work in a field where my life is put on the line daily. I have not lost my job or my home. I do not need to scrimp to afford food. And, when I look at my family picture, each person in it is still alive.
At some level, I’ve always been grateful for my family—the feeling rising in moments of reflection, and waning in times of tension. But these past seven months have sent it soaring. In the first few weeks of lockdown, as we were inundated with news updates and so many unknowns, we turned to each other to try to keep our spirits up with jokes and distractions and discussions of what we were seeing, feeling, and thinking. Even if at times togetherness drove us crazy, it also gave me time to recognize the little things they did for me that they didn’t have to—like bringing me a sweet treat on a trip out, and offering calming words when the workdays turned into nights and my mind felt like it was going to explode.
Of course, the more we came to rely on one another, the more we realized we had to lose to this virus that knows no boundaries. I can’t count the number of times I’ve wondered what would happen if one of us caught the virus, and—no matter how much the overwhelmed doctors and nurses tried—died without any of our loved ones there to say goodbye. What would I do without the wonderful people around me? I couldn’t say and still can’t.
The fear hasn’t disappeared. As we return to offices and to schools, I worry about what I may bring back to them or what their own jobs will expose them to, and the outcome if it did. With the rise in cases and hospitalizations and deaths, at times, it feels like we are back in those first months, only this time we know more and how to control it, and yet still feel powerless to stop it.
If we all make it through this, I hope when touches of normal begin to return and we slip back into our daily grinds, the apathy doesn’t return. If it does, I will quickly remember these days when they were the one of the only things keeping me sane.
Unsurprisingly, being unable to leave your home leaves you with a lot of time on your hands. While that meant I could watch episodes of The Office and Community on repeat, it also gave me a lot of time to think—about who I am, what I have, and what’s important to me.
One thing that has been impossible to ignore during this time of pandemic and unrest is privilege. I have not lost anything that truly matters and I have not yet been sick. I am not forced to work in stores or factories, putting myself near dozens of people who could get me sick just to earn an income. I am not a doctor or a nurse, trying to save lives and watching people die from a virus some people refuse to acknowledge as a reality. I am not yet someone who has had to lose a loved one, and may have had to grieve alone because gatherings could lead to more illness. I am not a person of color who has to face prejudice and unjust and unfair treatment because of my skin, because of something I have no control over.
The largest inconveniences I had were staying home with my family, handling an increased workload from furloughs, and having to wear a mask when I go out. I am in no place to complain.
But I am in a place where I can try to deepen my well of empathy, to imagine what it is like to be in the shoes of those whose lives have become steeped in heartbreak and hardship. While I know that imagining their pain will never compare to experiencing it, at the very least, it can allow me to better understand someone else and do what I can to help them.
To those who are suffering right now, I say I’m sorry, and I send my heart out, although both feel inadequate for the hell you’re going through.
As a former reporter, I cannot understate the importance of news. This is especially true when everything is changing moment by moment, and some tragedies could be swept under the rug if not for the media’s watchful eyes. However, as someone who covered the first months of COVID-19, I can also speak to how emotionally draining continuously consuming news can be. In the first month, after I got done writing about our local situation, I’d turn on CNN to see what was happening and nationally and globally. This routine quickly became overwhelming and reduced me to a mass of exposed nerves and tears.
Which is why I cannot imagine this year—or any year really—without having the distraction of storytelling. I’d turn on a sitcom or a movie, or pick up a book, and immerse myself into worlds where there were no shutdowns or fighting over whether or not masking was necessary. The “heaven” of The Good Place, the British countryside of Emma, the varying inspirations of The Prompt, and surprisingly, the Byrd home in Ozark all became my places to unwind and de-stress. When I needed to learn more about unrest, I turned to novels and podcasts that allowed me to learn from those on the frontlines and see their perspectives.
We are indebted to creators who give us stories to lose ourselves in—and many times, explore the issues in our own lives with more tact, heart, and inclusivity than we generally see play out in the news (although it’s still not enough). They give us hope of what could be and a reprieve from what is. They shine a light on events that may have otherwise been overlooked and give voices to those who may have otherwise been unheard. They bring us together in community to make change, even during times when separated.
While I’d like to give them a hug for all they do, that’s not presently the best idea. So, for now, to the creators—podcasters, writers, actors, musicians, and amazing Prompters—I’ll settle for offering you this: Thank you.
The prospect of hope
Throughout this year, there have been multiple moments that I’ve felt as though we were slogging through endless darkness—with no reprieve to come, without even glitters of light to prove there was something beyond this.
But, then there were and are other moments of people coming together, of working for better, of turning tides, and of believing that maybe everything isn’t so bad. We’ve had these as well—examples of light shining down upon us and chasing out the cool of the darkness with the comfort of warmth. No matter the events ahead, I hope we can keep our eyes on them, and keep moving forward.