Mike Matthews photo

Mike Matthews

Reading my typical three newspapers on this eve of our new year, the same theme of “don’t look back to 2020” appears in all their opinion sections. I respectfully disagree and assert that if we do so, we will miss out on an incredible teachable moment and the learning opportunity of our lifetimes individually and collectively. The month of January is named for Janus, the Roman god of beginnings, endings, transitions and doorways. What is unique about the god Janus is his iconic image of two faces looking in opposite directions — one to the past and one to the future. A new year offers the opportunity to look back to try to find the meaning and purpose of our struggles in 2020 and look forward to 2021 with some level of hope and cheerful anticipation by finding the bright moments shining through the dark times.

Many of us started 2020 knowing it would be chaotic being an election year, but developed a perfect vision and expected plenty of beautiful days ahead despite the political melodrama. None of us foresaw a worldwide pandemic that would greatly challenge us physically, mentally, emotionally and financially, and tested our faith and trust in life itself. We became habituated with a new vocabulary featuring words and terms like pandemic (which is the Merriam-Webster 2020 word of the year), social distancing, flattening the curve, Zoom meetings, ventilators, “essential” and “non-essential” worker (everybody is an essential worker!), lockdown (which we need no more of), and “stimmy” checks. We became entrenched in the crucible of a constellation of daily challenges, but many of us discovered that we could “do hard” and developed our grit and determination to a degree that we never before dreamed possible.

Whereas Merriam-Webster chose “pandemic” as its word for 2020, the University of Hawaii at Manoa selected “resilience” as its word of the year for 2020. If we were to refuse to look back on 2020, we would lose the opportunity to recall the incredible heroes working as front-line healthcare workers, first responders, teachers, and all of our service workers, all whom we owe a debt that we can never repay. 2020 was a difficult year for all of us and COVID-19 is still hitting my family and people worldwide very hard, but communities rallying together and our individual greater understanding and compassion for our elderly, homeless, and other marginalized citizens has been unforgettable and I’m glad to look back and be inspired on these things. In addition, most of us have recognized our need to balance our essential rights to personal freedom with the golden rule and empathy for the vulnerable among us.

Looking forward to the future, we can make 2021 not just better, but our best year ever despite being profoundly tested by a gauntlet of challenges we will surely face. A “faith lift” is the acceptance that everything that happens has a meaning and purpose and it serves us, or put in a simpler way, life happens for us not to us. We can commit to living our lives from our highest selves no matter what our challenges, but we have to make a great effort to actively look for the blessings in our lives when times are so hard. These are excruciating and overwhelming times and they are calling for us to bring our best selves to our personal lives, which in many ways will positively impact the world because the personal and the planetary are inextricably connected. 2020 marks 44 years that I’ve had a daily meditation/contemplation practice (that’s 16,060 days) and steadying the mind to take in the good and have awestruck gratitude for life is a daily exercise you may also want to consider.

Walt Whitman said, “To me every cubic inch of space is a miracle,” but it is hard to keep our focus on the bright side after the gruesome catastrophe that defined much of the year 2020. Look back, find the blessings and appreciate that we are still here in form and have survived the challenge of our lifetime. Remember and write down all the lessons you learned from 2020 and give sincere thanks for the people and circumstances that have made you a stronger person. Then look forward to 2021, knowing there will be both promise and peril and write down all your positive outcomes you desire for your life. Decide you will be in the driver’s seat of your life — the hammer, not the nail, the victor not the victim of the circumstances of your life. Ignore the advice to not look back on 2020; use the suffering of 2020 as an invocation for a better 2021 for yourself and our world.

Mike Matthews is a retired teacher, counselor and mental health administrator with a mission of creating a healthy and cohesive community. He can be contacted at drstmatt@yahoo.com.

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