Sitting down with my journal this week, I had hoped to write a reflection that I could one day show my children, something about how unforgettable 2020 was and how many changes occurred. Yet, I eventually came up short on how to capture any takeaways from a year filled with new daily challenges.
I’ve been incredibly lucky to be in mostly good health, yet the emotional, physical, and professional demands of the past year have weighed on me. Living in a pandemic has shifted my life in so many ways that it is difficult to even consider what goals I might make for the future. It is also difficult to look back and reflect on the last year when it feels like I’m still attempting to comprehend what happened.
One perspective I’ve tried to entertain, instead of using the language of “canceled plans” that has permeated so many conversations, is to think of this time as an opportunity to reframe our values.
The result of shifting schedules and unexpected cancellations was that I was forced to find joy in new places and maintain relationships in ways I never had before. Because of this, I will look back on 2020, not as a time I lost everything, but a time that I found a lot of hope in my own life. Here are the two key questions I asked myself when looking back at 2020 and ahead to 2021.
What was important to me this year? Did that change?
Looking back in my journal at my 2020 goals, which I wrote before New Year’s Eve 2019, two things I wanted to prioritize were wonder and relationships. I planned trips to see friends and local excursions to new restaurants or museums. Yet, the shutdown in early March paused any possibility of ambitious travel or even visiting relatives.
Instead, I abruptly found myself spending most hours of the day in my apartment bedroom, teaching from home, with no plans of leaving for the next few months. When I would usually be coaching or meeting up with friends after school, I had to find ways to avoid the grief that came with being alone and not able to go anywhere. It was during this time that I was forced to find new ways to fulfill the value of wonder and invest in relationships.
To prioritize my sense of wonder, my partner and I walked new parts of Indianapolis we had never seen before, spending miles ogling at the architecture of different houses in our neighborhood. We began working out at a park only a mile away from our apartment that I had never visited, despite having lived nearby for a year. On our daily walks, we began new friendships with our neighbors.
Even though I couldn’t visit my best friend like I had planned, I used my new free time to call friends and relatives I hadn’t talked to in forever. I wrote some old professors’ letters. It took time, but I found that wonder and relationships didn’t necessarily require grandiose plans.
As I look forward to 2021, one lesson I’ll bring with me is knowing that sometimes the opportunities you want can be nearer than you think.
How might my values shift this upcoming year?
I know that on some level, the social issues that have manifested this year have required new reflection on my part. The deadly virus, divisive election, and racial injustice that pervaded our country have made me consider how my own actions and beliefs have changed during this time. No matter what position you hold, religiously, politically, professionally, socioeconomically, etc., I think that by nature of being an American, we are being forced to reckon with our belief system and listen to others who think differently.
Part of my New Year’s resolution is to find ways to become more involved in my community. For instance, I found a robust Black Lives Matter contingent here in downtown Indianapolis that I’d like to support. I also began volunteering during March and April with a center that delivers food to families, and I plan on continuing to help this program in the new year.
2020 showed me that more people are willing to help than I often give them credit for — I have been amazed by the charity, kindness, and generosity that has been extended by others during this time: notes of encouragement on sidewalks, schools sending Wi-Fi buses to different parts of the city so they could learn online, businesses giving discounts and free services to educators and front line workers — this list is endless. I can only hope that this doesn’t end with the new year. I want to be able to remember 2020 as a time in my life when I decided that I wanted to be a part of that collective change, and 2021 as when I found ways, even small ones, to keep that going.