The Unexpected Gifts of 2020

The year 2020 may be the most extraordinary year of our lives. It’s hard to see its gifts as we trudge through adversity and deal with loss. Still, if we look, we can all find some silver lining, however small. This is not to minimize the pandemic’s seriousness and its devastating toll, but let’s consider what we may have gained from this challenging time as we heal.

Grit and resolve. We have been gifted with new grit and resolve. We learned to put one foot in front of the other day after day when we didn’t know which direction to take — or why we should try. The mental, physical, and spiritual challenges we’ve each faced have given us a new strength we didn’t know we had. Now, we are aware of our inner strength. And though it’s been extremely challenging and many of our loved ones are no longer with us, we are still standing. Sometimes things are hard. But now we realize we can do hard things.

Character and integrity. Our stay-at-home time coincided with urgent social and political issues that direly needed our attention. We stepped up to fiercely advocate for equality and change, bolstered by a sense of pandemic helplessness and galvanized to right egregious wrongs. For many people, this was new. We rejected fear and apathy and no longer settled for old, outdated ways of thinking. We developed non-negotiables in our character. The pandemic made us very aware that there are some things we cannot change — and some things we must change. We moved from apathy to empathy and acted with integrity.

Gratitude and appreciation. Front line and essential workers from grocery clerks to emergency room nurses carried the weight of the world, exhibiting a commitment to helping others that we had never celebrated. We learned a hard lesson but experienced the value of truck drivers carrying produce across the country, pharmacy technicians filling our prescriptions, waste workers clearing our neighborhoods from trash, and utility workers keeping our phones and internet operating. We have a new gratitude for essential and frontline workers — they are our lifeline.

Camaraderie and togetherness. Until March 2020, we shopped, traveled, went to the movies, ate dinner at restaurants, and met up with friends on a moment’s notice. Yet privately, we sometimes longed for our space and alone time. Instead, due to the need to stay at home, we got isolation. Now, we ache for togetherness, social gatherings, a handshake, and a hug. And we have more empathy for those that are isolated and destitute year-round. I now know the real meaning of the lyric, “people who need people are the luckiest people in the world,” it now goes straight to my heart.

Generosity and selflessness. There are countless examples of the generosity of celebrities and everyday people — some grand, some modest. From anonymous waitstaff tips in the thousands to Dolly Parton donating $1 million to COVID vaccine research, to the near-heroic food and supply drives by our own employees, these stories soothe us, like a blanket placed over a sleeping child. Yes, the money is hugely beneficial, but it is the selflessness that moves us. We embrace these acts of generosity where once we may have been cynical. We need this constant trickle of kindness to sustain us. We are more generous, both in mind and spirit.

Resourcefulness. The way the world adapted so quickly to the new realities of the pandemic is nothing short of amazing. Grocery stores immediately put social distancing into place, with one-way directions on aisles for shopper safety. Nail salons installed plexiglass shields between technicians and clients. Restaurants switched to take-out only. Synagogues, churches, mosques, and other places of worship streamed religious services. Parents rolled up their sleeves to help children with remote learning while working full-time jobs themselves. And, of course, most workers promptly switched to a work-from-home model. These were not easy tasks for any person or any organization. But we learned as we went, tossing out what didn’t work and optimizing what did. We tried new things, hit walls, and started over. We summoned ideas from our wildest imagination and put them to work. We found ways to make life happen.

Acceptance and priorities. The pandemic and social unrest weren’t the only things that changed us. Hurricanes came at us on repeat. And wildfires ravaged the West like never before. My own family had to evacuate to safety as the out-of-control fires came frighteningly close to our home. We have come to know that our world has changed and that we must change with it. We weren’t given a choice, and maybe that’s why it was hard to accept. But as the dust settles on 2020, acceptance has freed us up to focus on what really matters. We are able to give more attention to family, friends, and colleagues — our core crew. I don’t know about you, but the acceptance of what is has made me immensely grateful for the simplest things.

As we near the end of 2020, there is little doubt that this will be a year like no other in the history books. And we should not deny its impact. But we must also know that we have grown. We are changed. No, 2020 hasn’t been a blessing in disguise, by any means. But we can embrace the newly-discovered byproducts of goodness, determination, and integrity. We shouldn’t shut out 2020. Instead, we must be grateful that, although we are not unscathed, we are not broken. We can see ourselves as improved and find peace this poignant holiday season.

I wish you and your loved ones a deeply felt sense of goodness in the world and a renewed spirit in your heart — for the new year and always.

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