by Hannah Rau
So, 2020 was a mess.
We dealt with politics and unrest, natural disasters and a pandemic. There was even a scare about a murder hornet invasion at one point. But 2020 is finally over, and a new year has begun. What a sweet thought!
I truly believe that 2021 will be better, but that depends largely on what we do with it. Part of me wants to forget all about 2020 because it’s sometimes so hard to see anything good in what’s happened. Part of me still waits for things to get back to ‘normal’—back to the way it was before. Yet I know those are empty wishes. 2020 is going to stick with me for a long time. I hope it’s the good things that last the longest. And there were good things.
For myself, I feel fortunate. Many of the things I looked forward to last year were cancelled, and an uncertain and stressful time in my life became even more uncertain and stressful. But I got to spend the last semester of grad school at home with my family instead of in a different state, which meant I have had a lot more time with them than I would have had otherwise.
We’ve also learned things and are still learning things as a society. At times, we’ve pulled together in ways we didn’t know were possible. In times of crisis, the amount of generous, kind, selfless people that come out of the woodwork is astounding.
We’ve learned how to take care of each other in public spaces. We’ve trained ourselves to think about the safety and welfare of the strangers that stand next to us in the grocery store or the post office. We have been creative in finding ways to stay connected with others and to brighten their days.
We’ve learned things about ourselves, as well. We’re talking more than ever about mental health and the need to care for the mind and emotions as well as the body. Many of us have been forced to reduce busyness in our lives and stay at home, which has given some the opportunity to fulfill goals of learning skills, spending more time with family, or taking more personal time.
Almost every year around this time, my family watches The Lord of the Rings trilogy together. The second movie, The Two Towers, has a moment that never fails to encourage me. I’ve been thinking about it lately. If you’re not familiar with the story, Frodo and Sam are on a long, difficult journey to destroy a ring that would allow evil to take over the world. At one point, Frodo seems ready to give up hope. He says, “I can't do this, Sam.” Sam replies,
“I know. It's all wrong. By rights we shouldn't even be here. But we are. It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness, and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end, because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines, it'll shine out the clearer.”
He continues by saying that the folk in the stories kept going because they were holding on to something. When Frodo asks what the two of them are holding on to, Sam says, “That there's some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it's worth fighting for.”
So what do we do when we’re at the point where we want to say, “I can’t do this. How can the world ever go back to normal?” We remember that there is good in this world, even during a year like 2020. And it is worth fighting for. This shadow too shall pass, and we can remember the good that shined through it. Let’s start the new year by letting go of 2020 and putting it behind us once and for all. Not forgetting it, but not letting it follow us into the future and weigh us down either. Let’s carry the worthwhile lessons of the last year forward and fight for the good in 2021.
Hannah Rau is a Michigan-based writer and writing tutor. Her favorite self-care activities include reading classic literature, burning lovely-smelling candles, creating watercolor paintings with instant coffee, and taking rambling strolls outdoors.