On January 1, 2020 — like many people — I looked forward and saw a year with potential challenges ahead but also great opportunity. I had read some news reports about a new virus in China, but it was distant and not a serious concern. The economy was humming along. Election drama was picking up a bit, particularly when it seemed that Bernie Sanders had the inside track on the Democratic nomination. There was some drama out there, but nothing earth-shattering.
In my cozy corner of the world, we were finishing a vacation to Missouri to see family and enjoy some true winter weather. Our youngest had half a year left in our church’s pre-school and had just performed in the Christmas pageant, one of our favorite moments each year. Our oldest was excelling in 1st grade while advancing in 2nd grade math. My dad had just retired a few months earlier and we were all looking forward to spending more time together. I had just rolled off the elder board at our church and was excited to keep working on a new vision initiative with our new pastor, who had just started in September.
Our jobs were going well. My company was just getting ready to break ground on its new downtown building and I was excited for new ideas we had planned in Marketing. The school where my wife teaches was growing and she had a solid routine going with her students. Our community — Lakeland/Polk County, Florida — was on the rise with a growing and diversifying economy.
At the annual economic forecast breakfast in January 2020, the keynote economist said:
“This economy is booming. And that’s the national economy. Right here, it’s doing even better.”
How quickly things changed.
By the time we were into February, it was clear that the coronavirus that caused COVID-19 was serious, and many of us became more anxious each day anticipating if/when it would spread from China to other parts of the world. Then once it came to America, it became a game of wondering which states would be most affected and how badly.
The situation escalated rapidly, and our family went from spending a day at Disney in early March for our youngest’s birthday to our kids being home from school and me working from home by March 18. By April 1, Governor Desantis joined almost every other state leader in issuing a stay-at-home order that would last for weeks. The country was effectively shut down.
Personally, our challenges were only beginning.
We thought things were really getting bad when we discovered lice in our oldest’s hair during the first week home. It took a few days — and multiple jars of olive oil — to get through that mess. Then we started trying to make the best of things, getting takeout to support local restaurants, spending time out on trails, swimming at my parents’ house.
Then everything changed for our family.
On April 4, I was planning to bring our kids over to my parents’ to swim. We were finishing up with breakfast and getting things packed to head over when my brother called. My dad had committed suicide the night before. He was gone.
The next few hours and days and weeks were a numbing blur, trying to make sense of what had happened and why. We still don’t really know his reasons, but it’s clear he was not healthy physically or mentally. The onset of the pandemic and fear over what it might bring could have been the last straw. Now we were left to navigate this disruptive season, but without him here with us.
Grieving during a pandemic that has shut down most normal social interactions and gatherings is difficult. There still hasn’t been a true memorial service with family and friends. I haven’t had the chance to eulogize my dad. There are many people we just haven’t seen or talked to at all, who otherwise would have been able to see us at a service or other activity around town. And so many people are dealing with their own grief and worry and insecurity at the same time.
Almost all of us have at times, I think, been caught in this place of incompleteness mixed with anxiety and indignation and numbness. Some people probably haven’t left that place.
“How can this be happening?”
“Why is it happening?”
“Where will I find the energy or the hope to keep moving forward?”
I wasn’t there for too long. My faith and trust that the Lord is in control and His plans are good — even when I can’t see how in the moment — was tested briefly but passed the test. That faith has strengthened me and allowed me to focus on responsibilities that are still in front of me, which includes a responsibility to let myself be sad and grieve when necessary. My family still needs me, my friends need me, my church, my job, my community, etc. Life must go on.
And that, above all, was the biggest lesson I learned in 2020 — the world does not stop for me. Or for you. Or for anyone.
Businesses can close. Governments can shut down. Travel can cease. Reality as we know it can shift in ways we never expected.
But the clock keeps ticking. The world keeps spinning. Life still happens.
If we stop moving, we’ll be left behind. That might be OK for a season, sometimes it’s necessary to be left behind for a bit. That just means we have to catch up when that season is over.
When my dad died, my plans and ideas and projects and dreams were put on hold. I had a personal lockdown. It lasted for a couple of weeks, before slowly but surely those dreams and plans all started to come back online and I started playing catchup.
I devoted more energy to work and explored new initiatives that could help my company, landing on a couple of special projects that are still ongoing. I gave full attention to our vision work at church, leading a specific section focused on the larger church in a changing culture. I re-engaged with friends. Together with my wife we went all-in on house hunting and eventually found a new home that has been a blessing to our family. I worked hard at being a good husband, father, son, brother and friend.
In the midst of such a trying year, I did what I could to contribute to our community and our national process. I participated in our local Black Lives Matter march in June. I peppered our civic leaders with feedback and resources related to mask mandates and what I viewed to be effective public policy initiatives. I discerned what I felt to be the right choices and people on the ballot in November and voted. I wore a mask when appropriate and encouraged others to do the same.
In no way am I alone in that. Yes, our country is divided. Yes, we have failed in many aspects of dealing with the pandemic. Yes, our economy is hurting. Yes, families are struggling to get by.
Yet, there is still so much good out there, and it’s coming from the people who are not willing to get left behind and not willing to look backward at the expense of moving forward. Those people who understand that the world does not stop, even when it feels like it should. This has taken form at a local scale, with neighbors banding together to help each other with food or supplies. Churches, like ours, raising tens of thousands of dollars that is given away to people who can’t pay their rent, or afford groceries, or car payments, etc. People organizing creative ways to still be together while at a distance — outdoor movie nights, car parades to celebrate birthdays, video reunions, etc.
Technology has allowed this creativity to blossom in ways we never could have imagined just 10 years ago. Personally, we have used Zoom to play virtual board games with friends, to participate in school and work meetings from a safe distance and even to attend church for a while before our church reopened its doors. Our nation saw virtual conventions for major political parties thanks to technology. Previously unknown people have become famous for singing on social media or creating other inspiring content. Traditional events such as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade or the New Year’s Times Square celebration were reimagined.
As the page has turned on 2020, I’m thankful for the resilience of the human spirit, and our unrelenting desire to grow and conquer the challenges that lie ahead. I’m hopeful that 2021 will bring more unity and peace and healing (both emotionally and physically, thanks again to the rapid development of vaccines by scientists who refused to stop).
Yet I’m sad for what has been lost. The loss of life, of course, but also the loss of trust and hope and livelihood that so many have experienced. It will take a long time to build those things back, if they come back at all. The only chance we have is to press on, leaning on one another to navigate this new reality with a renewed commitment to rising to this moment together, as one.
As Amanda Gorman said in her poem during Joe Biden’s inauguration:
“For there is always light / If only we’re brave enough to see it /
If only we’re brave enough to be it.”