The holidays are here. Which means it's time for reflection. Because we learned a lot this year, didn’t we?
And I’m not just talking about the new vocabulary. Sure, if you had asked me last year at this time what flattening the curve or social distance meant, I would have said, respectively, wearing a really tight sports bra to run, and my entire experience of high school.
No, this year, we learned more than new phrases. We learned things about our institutions, our social lives, our families, our history, and, let’s be honest, our soul.
We learned that it is actually possible to cancel everything. The way you do it is that you cancel the first thing, and then the next thing, and then all the things. Parties. Conferences. Hair appointments. Concerts. Celebrations. School. Date nights. Surgeries. Vacations. Playdates. Fireworks. Plane tickets. Thanksgiving. School again.
We learned that mail-in voting works. Really, really well. Democracy may have been the only thing that wasn’t canceled. (Though not for want of trying.)
We learned that kids are adaptable. Like, remarkably so. They wear masks without complaining. They Zoom without complaining. They find the normal so much faster than us. But as we look at them and marvel at their resilience, we know that, for many of them, it’s coming at a cost of their mental health.
We learned that we need far more mental health resources for children and adolescents.
We learned that dishonesty leads to mass tragedy. That when a person or group of people charged with leading a country lie, mislead, cover up, create diversions to hide the truth, and pretend facts aren’t facts, hundreds of thousands of people will die. Honesty alone can’t necessarily save lives, but it gives us a fighting chance.
We learned that we need to say the words black lives matter. That it’s not possible to say these words too much; that it’s never inappropriate to say them; and that it’s not nearly enough to just say them.
We learned about grief and its many layers. We experienced it collectively, as a world, and individually, as people losing people. We saw its twists and turns, how it slays and caresses, and how disproportionately it falls among us.
We learned that there are some true patriots in the Republican party, though very few of them are in Congress. Rather, they are in states and counties and tiny villages all over the country, just doing their actual job, and getting death threats because of it.
We learned that little men with big egos and barely any sense don’t get to tell Dr. Jill Biden what to call herself.
We learned that the earth does not have mercy for us. It scorches forests and communities. It floods out lives in a flash. It turns up the heat in the places on the globe where hot temperatures will do the most damage. It will always win over human life. The number of lives we will lose—or save—directly correlates to our efforts to stop not caring.
We learned that the royal family, or at least the Netflix version of the royal family, is more screwed up than we thought, but that we can’t go wrong if we just listen to Meghan Markle.
We learned the importance of a mute button.
We learned that hope is indeed a thing with feathers, just as Emily Dickinson wrote. And when you combine it with science, it will fly you right to a vaccine, in record time.
We learned that press conferences in landscaping company parking lots are really weird. This doesn’t actually seem like a lesson we would have needed, but we did need to laugh, so it kind of makes sense.
We learned to never give up on people, because when they’re not busy being terrible, they are lovely, selfless, dedicated, remarkable creatures.
We learned that we owe each other things. Didn’t we always know this? We know it now with a new intensity. We are connected. We owe each other things. We really, really do.
Did you miss my roundup of favorite books from 2020? It’s got some fantastic gift ideas, complete with links that let you buy from local booksellers. You can find it here.