And 2020 indeed has been an exceedingly difficult year, and looking back at it is no less painful than living it out. To say that it has been one of the worst years in living memory is no exaggeration. In fact, most – if not all – of us are now more than ready to bid farewell to 2020 without the least bit of regret or longing; ready to forget that such a year has ever happened; ready to consign it to history and move on. I myself have never been more eager for a year to end than now. But doing so, while understandable, and perhaps, convenient, is ultimately futile, for it risks ignoring all the valuable life lessons the long and wearisome journey throughout 2020 has taught us.
It is true that 2020 has taken a lot from us, and has given precious few in return. But what the year lacked in blessings, it made up for in wisdom, from small insights applicable to daily living to profound knowledge crucial to the stewardship and safekeeping of the natural environment and the entire world. 2020 has been a most agonizing and toilsome year, but is it not during times of dearth and difficulty that we learn the dearest lessons of all? Wisdom comes at a cost, and this year, we have paid a steep price. And so though we stand on the verge of a new year, we still have a one last thing to do before we let go of and completely say goodbye to what has been one of the most painful chapters in our lives.
There have been a lot of lessons and learnings throughout this year, and try as I might, I could never name them all. For there are some lessons that not all of us have learned, some learnings others have made that might not hold true for the rest. Regardless, I’ve written some of the life lessons that I strongly believe most of us have gained from 2020, bits of knowledge that resonate well with most of us.
First, 2020 has taught us to appreciate, to value, to cherish the small things in life that we often take for granted. The suffering wrought by the pandemic has put a new perspective on life, on what is worthwhile and what is truly important. At a time when a lot of people were struggling to get by, suddenly it did not seem such a small thing to have a job, even if a low-paying one; to have a roof above your head and be able to keep it; or to wake up without having to worry where to get the money for your next meal. At a time when the world moved its affairs online, from learning to working to shopping, having a decent Internet connection seemed like a great blessing. Indeed, even those rare moments when we ventured outdoors, the sight of familiar faces and sound of friendly voices seemed like new and novel and gratifying things. 2020 has taught us that there is much to be grateful for.
Second, 2020 has taught us to appreciate, and to celebrate, even our small accomplishments. When we’re surrounded by people bragging and boasting about their successes, our own achievements seem small and unimportant in comparison. But 2020 has humbled us, even brought us to our knees, and throughout our long and tedious journey this year, we have learned that small successes do count, that they matter, and that they, too, deserve to be celebrated. We have learned that the appreciation of small victories will not diminish our drive, our desire for greater successes; if anything, it will only inspire us to work harder towards greater aspirations, and serve to make our larger wins more satisfying and more meaningful. In a year starved of good news and positive outcomes, it was our small and humble achievements that kept us going; they were our little sources of pride and inspiration. In fact, having made it this far into the year, having the opportunity to head on to the new one, is already an accomplishment, and so deserve to be acknowledged, if not celebrated.
Third, 2020 has taught us to treasure our family, our friends, and all the rest of our loved ones. Whether we’ve spent the past months away from them, or confined at home with them, 2020 has allowed us to see them in a new perspective, to appreciate them for being there when we need someone to talk to, to confide in, to cry on. Sometimes, them just being there is enough. They were a reminder, a solace that though we struggled, we struggled collectively; that though we suffered, we suffered together; and that throughout all our pains and heartaches, we were never alone. I myself am living proof of the importance of family, for without them, I would never have made it this far. If before this year we didn’t know or fully understand just how fleeting time is, then now we do, and now we understand that every moment spent with our loved ones is time well spent.
But far greater than our newfound appreciation for our loved ones is our newfound regard and value for human empathy. When the pandemic and other crises struck, some people chose to embrace cruelty, selfishness, tribalism, and narrow-mindedness. But the rest chose to be kind, to be caring, to be charitable, to be understanding, all in the hope that we can only get through the worst of the year if we act together and act out of love and empathy. From donating to people in dire need; recognizing the labor and sacrifice of our frontline and essential workers; to rising up in solidarity for our friends, our fellow human beings suffering racial, gender, or class injustice, we have shown that there is still some good left on this earth. Indeed, even simple acts of kindness, charity, and responsibility, such as staying indoors when there is no need to venture outside, or wearing a face mask when in public places, have become incredibly consequential.
Fourth, 2020 has taught us the value of travel and the outdoors. The pandemic and the resulting lockdown have not dampened our wanderlust; if anything, it only strengthened it. In the way that we only realize the value of a thing when we are parted from it, we have come to understand how greatly we prize our freedom to move whenever and wherever we please only after it was temporarily suspended. Confined within our homes, we recently understood how much travel meant to our lives even as our thoughts strayed beyond the four walls of our houses, longing for the sight of towering mountains rising above the plain, the sound of waves softly lapping against gentle shores, or the scent of damp earth, rain-washed leaves, and pine trees; longing for the days when we roamed far and freely; and longing for the days when we could do so again.
Lastly, 2020 has taught us that Mother Nature can heal, and heal remarkably well and swiftly, but only if we give Her the chance. The lockdown has afforded us a rare and most-needed glimpse of what the world might look like when human activity and interference are paused or reduced. From images of wild animals wandering freely and unafraid along city streets and alleys as if they were fields and forests devoid of humans; pictures of tourist destinations normally thronging with people, vehicles, and garbage now suddenly calm, clear, and clean; to statistics indicating record drops in carbon emissions, we’ve seen the benefits of a conscious pause in our ill-guided attempts at ‘development’. Likely, in our own cities or towns or villages, too, we have seen firsthand the good effects of the lockdown to nature, such as being able to hear the birds sweetly singing in the morning instead of the rumble and roar of vehicles, see a clearer sky, or breathe a cleaner air. Indeed, in all these and more we have witnessed the remarkable resilience of Mother Nature, Her incredible ability to heal the hurts we’ve inflicted, and regrow into something stronger and more beautiful, but only if we allow Her, only if we take the necessary drastic steps to halt our destructive drive and reverse many of our ruinous actions. Greta has been right from the very start: we can only have real and meaningful progress in the fight against climate change if we treat it as a crisis.
But these are only a few of the life lessons we have learned from 2020. There are many more. Some of such lessons we’ve already learned outright in the past months. But there are many more learnings that can only be made through reflection and introspection. And so we owe it to ourselves, and to all our loved ones – be they family, friends, or just fellow human beings – who have lost their lives throughout the year, to look back at 2020 and learn from it, and use the knowledge gained to become better people.
With all that being said, I think we’re ready now to bid farewell to 2020, without longing or regret, but in our hearts a streak of defiance and a flame of hope, hope that the new year will be a better year for all of us. I think we’re ready to move on. The painful events of the year we can leave behind, but the valuable life lessons we will keep with us, and may these never be forgotten.