The year 2020 has certainly been one for the history books, hasn’t it?
With the year (finally!) drawing a close, I can’t help but think ahead to the future, wondering how the year will look with the advantage of hindsight. How will this year ultimately be remembered?
And what I keep coming back to, unfortunately, is one word: Turmoil. The year 2020 has been one of turmoil. And I’m not just talking about the pandemic or riots or election. It’s easy to point at the headlines and claim that those will be our only legacies. The truth, as unbelievable as it may seem, is that we most remember the people and moments that aren’t front page news. Those everyday stories are the ones that stay with us because, put simply, they are our stories.
We are most intrigued by the ordinary people who endured momentous times. We ask ourselves: How did they manage to live through the Civil War? The World Wars? The Great Depression?
Because those people, the ones just managing to live through it, are the ones who ultimately keep the human story moving forward.
Barbara Kingsolver described this simple fact best in “The Poisonwood Bible.” (She is primarily describing women, but the sentiment can apply to the every person as well.) Kingsolver wrote: “I only know the middle ground where we live our lives. We whistle while Rome burns, or we scrub the floor, depending. Don’t dare presume there’s shame in the lot of a woman who carries on.”
So here we are, just carrying on. And as much as we might like to think that this year’s insanity will end when the ball drops, that, unfortunately, is not how it will work. There is no switch, no magic word, that will make all of the struggles of 2020 disappear as soon as the calendar flips to a new year.
We will still face the weighty task of having to live our lives and get through it all. The light is at the end of the tunnel, yes, but that tunnel may very well be a long one. The truth of the matter is that we are facing the same unknowns we have all year long.
Looking back, those unknowns have been met with arguments. With disrespect. It only takes a few minutes on Facebook to start feeling knotted up inside.
But with the holiday season now in full swing — and the stresses of Christmas compounding those of the pandemic — we have a choice to make. Will we end the year and go into the next with that same unrest?
Or will we choose something different?
Will we choose patience and understanding? Will we stop, take a breath, and remember that everyone is frustrated? That everyone is disappointed? That we are all trying our hardest in an often scary time?
Will we remember to be kind?
It is possible. I have seen so many acts of kindness since the pandemic began.
But I have also seen so many instances of the opposite, and sadly, those seem to be the most prevalent. I hope that they’re not; just simply the loudest.
Back in the summer, my husband and I were sitting on the front porch and he wanted to play me a Jimmy Buffet song he’d come across. We were listening to it, enjoying the type of relaxation that can only come from good ole Mr. Buffet, when a particularly loud car revved its engine right down our street. For a moment, that was all we could hear. The music was still playing, but it was lost to the noise. But then, the car drove away, and Jimmy was back.
I think kindness is a lot like that moment on the porch. Right now, everything else — the arguing, the rudeness, the dissent — is just louder.
And it comes from all sides, from every viewpoint on every opinion imaginable.
We all have opinions. And we all have the right to express those opinions, especially when they concern our health and safety. We even have the right to be unkind. There’s no law that says we have to be nice to one another.
That’s something that can’t be legislated, and it shouldn’t be: Because kindness should be a game we’re all willing to play, no questions asked.
So today, I’m issuing a challenge: Do something kind for someone else. Take a moment of your time to keep the world spinning in a positive way. If enough of us do it, then maybe kindness won’t be so overwhelmed by the noise anymore. Sure, there will be discourse. Sure, there will anger. And sometimes, those options are the right ones. Sometimes, enough is just enough.
But is that true in the everyday, simple conversations we have? To the everyday, “middle ground” people who are just doing the best that they can?
I suppose that’s ultimately up to you. Nobody can make someone else be kind.
But imagine, for a moment, what 2020 would have been like if kindness had spread as far as COVID-19.
This will be a year for the history books — and it’s not over yet. As we move toward a new year, with many of the same challenges and, undoubtedly, many new ones, too, we all have choices to make.
And one day, people will look back and wonder: How did they live through it?
Well… how did we? The answer is up to us.
Sarah Davidson is a contributor with Salt magazine and blogger at sarah-davidson.com.