(December 8, 2020) I relived the pandemic while packing to move.
Each plate, bowl and glass got its own section of newspaper as I wrapped them and tucked them carefully inside boxes. Coffee mugs wrapped in January’s news — hints of a virus likely to spread widely. Ceramic pitchers padded in February’s announcements of infections and the first U.S. death. Next came bottles of spices and olive oil wrapped in the WHO’s proclamation that the virus had reached pandemic scale. Then came lockdowns, layoffs, business implosions and, finally, some promise of light at the end of the tunnel.
We went into the new year as we usually do, full of hope, ready for challenges and opportunities. And, we found both.
Like everyone else, I am ready to say good riddance to 2020. However, when we step back for a moment and reflect, it’s remarkable what we have learned and what we have accomplished.
First, we have learned that we are stronger than we thought we were, and that we are even stronger when we work together.
Each of us has strength we didn’t know we had. We didn’t need it, quite frankly, until this year, but when circumstances pinned us into a corner, we found determination and creativity sufficient to move forward. We discovered, in the midst of enormous challenge, what Thomas Edison meant when he said: “When you’ve exhausted all possibilities, remember: you haven’t.”
Second, we learned that we need very little to survive.
Throughout the pandemic, we have pared back many of the activities that filled our lives last year. We have spent less money on some of the odds and ends we generally give away or throw away. While we might miss some of these things and some of these activities, and while we may be eager for their return, we are fine. We have survived, and we are not diminished.
Third, we have learned we can work, learn and play at a distance.
Not all work, I realize, nor all learning, nor all play. But with imagination and willingness, we have been able to do more than we thought we could back in March. Fears that technology would isolate us from each other are unfounded. Had this pandemic occurred 30 years ago, we would have been isolated from each other for days on end. However, in 2020, we were able to quarantine and at the same time keep many aspects of life moving along.
And finally, we have learned that friends and family really are what matter most.
As the pandemic chiseled away at our social calendars, our work schedules and our weekend plans, many of us found ourselves reconnecting with a core circle of friends. We realized that the people who know us best and love us most were the ones who could help us stay balanced and keep our lives in perspective during these unusual times. Travel restrictions and limited crowd mandates did not prevent us from finding ways to stay close.
Wrapping dishes in back issues of newspapers gave me a whirlwind review of how far we have come in just a few months. It was strange to read articles from February and March having already lived through September and October. We know now what we did not know then, but we do not know today what lies ahead in February 2021, or April, or ….
We live our lives forward, as Soren Kierkegaard said, but only understand them in reverse. So, we need to be content to know very little. Yet, we can all hold on to what we have learned, those things that have carried us up to this point and that can, I believe, carry us farther still. We are stronger than we could ever have imagined, and even stronger together; we need very little to survive; we can work, learn and play at a distance; and friends and family are really what matter most.
One day, the COVID-19 pandemic will be the stuff of documentaries and history books, and our children will tell stories about it to their children. And soon, someone will wrap dishes in the yellowed pages of newspaper articles that report about vaccines, antibodies, of rebuilding society, and about a world made better because it struggled together.
This column by President David Johns appeared in The Roanoke Times and The Franklin News-Post. President Johns may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.