Last year I decided to join the crowd and pick a word for 2020. It seemed like a reasonable thing to do. After all, it was 2020! This was going to be our year. This was going to be the start of something new. We had so much to look forward to and we were ready to take the bull by the horns and tackle the challenges that faced us as individuals and a nation.
We were all so naive.
It didn’t take long for me to realize the irony in selecting a word like “hope” for 2020. Within the first two months the world realized that Australia was on fire, there was legitimate talk of World War 3, Kobe Bryant died, and our president was both impeached and acquitted. It seemed like we were off to a pretty rough start for the year, especially since there was this pesky coronavirus that kept popping up in the news.
By the time I boarded the plane for five days in Costa Rica in early March, countries in Europe were shutting down, a cousin had decided to not return home to China and instead came back to the States, and the US had witnessed our first deaths from the now-named COVID-19. By the time I returned, the Houston Rodeo had been shut down and it was decided that we weren’t returning to school.
And so began our longest spring break ever.
2020 has been a year that has revealed our best and our worst selves. I’ve seen people sacrifice their own well-being and resources to make sure that others are cared for. I’ve argued with others over the importance of wearing masks and caring for their neighbors. People I’ve loved and respected my whole life have left me heartbroken, and I’ve found new kinship online with people who were merely acquaintances before, new friendships forming over the distance and through the chaos.
Like many families, ours struggled with how far was too far. How much traveling was too much? How much outside interaction was too risky? How much activity was responsible both in relation to our family and when we considered the safety and needs of others? Were we putting too much stock in our hope that we would be “lucky” and not get sick?
Honestly, the start of the school year was difficult for me. I felt like we were on a fool’s errand. What if a student got me sick? After all, I spend all day with teenagers who think they are invincible under the best of circumstances. What if my kids picked up the virus at school and brought it home or made their own teachers sick? Were we all just going to pretend like everything was normal, with the exception of wearing masks at all times? How much were we really willing to ask of teachers and kids in the face of a global pandemic?
But I got through an entire semester without a shutdown, as did my children. Do I still feel like our country is asking too much of our teachers and kids without being willing to ask and answer some hard questions about a system that was ready to break before a pandemic? Yes. But I am thankful that we made it to the end of the semester with most of our family’s sanity intact.
Through all of this, I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting. For the first time in a long time I started to understand the meaning of Advent. The waiting, the hoping, the longing for something better while sitting in the darkness. I took time I didn’t have at the end of a semester to start writing an Instagram post a day for Advent, each day on a different word. It’s been the most reflection I’ve done during Advent in a long time, and it brought me back to my word for the year, “hope.”
As we finish out 2020, I’m tired. I’m so very tired. I’m tired of my inability to trust people to do the best for me and my family. I’m tired of not seeing friends who I desperately want to have over for drinks or coffee and a fire. I’m tired of not hosting for major holidays like Easter and New Years. I’m tired of worrying about who my kids are interacting with because I don’t know what their families are doing and what precautions they are taking. I’m tired of seeing the ugliness of people I used to respect and wondering how that breach can be repaired.
And yet, I still have reason for hope. The vaccine for COVID-19 is being distributed and early reports are positive. Although I may not agree with everything from the new administration, we have a president coming in who is putting together a team that is capable, optimistic, and forward thinking. I’ve seen the fight for racial justice up close and something about it feels different. People have rediscovered their voice (or perhaps discovered their voice for the first time) and they are ready to see reforms to our system that will make it easier for everyone to participate and more equitable for all citizens.
As I finish out 2020, I’m realizing that hope wasn’t as hopeless of a word to pick for a year that turned everything upside down. Maybe it was just what we needed.