As we come to the end of the first month of 2021, it may be a good time to reflect more intentionally and without the distraction of the holidays. Today’s article is timeless except for the fact that it is looking back at the year of 2020. Wait! Don’t stop reading. If you are like me, I am weary of rehearsing the challenges of this past year. However, Philip Yancey in the article for today’s blog, reviews 2020 in a manner that moves our hearts and minds from all the Why God this? and Why God that? to responses of compassion. While at the same time giving the freedom to grieve that which is sorrowful (and 2020 certainly gave us a lot on this front.)
It is evident in the first twenty-seven days into a new year that the challenges before us are not easing and in some respects it may feel like they have doubled-down. So in the midst of our confusion, anxiety, and disappointments we need to lean all the more into what we do know, especially as it relates to how Jesus responded to difficulty. Yancey helps to remember.
THE LONGEST YEAR
Reflections on 2020.
By Philip Yancey
In early 2020, as the COVID-19 outbreak spread and the United States went into a shutdown, a wry joke made the rounds on the internet:
Thirty days has September,
April, June, and November,
All the rest have thirty-one,
Except for March, which has eight thousand.
At least it seemed that way, with stores, restaurants, movie theatres, sports stadiums, and concert venues all closed. Days of the week blended together into what some called blursday, each one boringly like the others.
Then came April, bringing more of the same, though with a dawning realization that normal life would be suspended indefinitely. Many employees now worked remotely from home—the lucky ones who still had jobs, that is. Gas prices plummeted because, well, where would we go? Airplanes sat idle on the tarmac. Overstressed parents scrambled to adapt as college-age kids migrated home and younger ones now required a hybrid form of homeschooling.
Unlike most natural disasters, this one endangered everyone on the planet. Peter Piot, the Belgian scientist who was one of the discoverers of the Ebola virus and who headed the UN task force on HIV/AIDS, found himself sharing a COVID-19 ward in London with a homeless person, a Colombian cleaner, and a man from Bangladesh; “Finally, a virus got me,” he said. The new virus proved to be a great leveller: two of the UK’s early victims were Prince Charles and Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and eventually the virus found its way into the White House.
Despite its wealth and power, the United States was hit hardest of any nation, with the most infections and deaths. As the pandemic settled in, we resigned ourselves to a new normal of remote learning, trimmed-down weddings, home cooking, and Zoom conferences. The virus crisis dominated the news until the last week of May when, after the police killing of George Floyd, mass protests against racial injustice broke out around the globe.
All this took place during an already divisive election season in the United States. Several suspenseful days passed before a winner was declared, and more than a month later the sitting president still had not acknowledged his loss. The virus only widened the bitter divisions, because the practice of masking and social distancing somehow evolved into a political statement. As the year limped to a close, rates of infection and hospitalizations soared to new heights, news only eclipsed by the deployment of promising vaccines.
To many, it seemed we were living in apocalyptic times, with an out-of-control virus, climate change, and raging nationalism all converging as if to tear the world apart. The Census Bureau dutifully reported that one-third of American adults were exhibiting symptoms of clinical anxiety or depression.
In this disorienting year, people of faith expressed their devotion by staying away from church, and families and friends showed their love by avoiding personal contact and cancelling Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings. Some people scorned masks as a sign of weakness; others shot looks of condemnation at the unmasked. When I would meet another shopper in a grocery store, we sized each other up with a suspicious glance. The threat posed by a virus had destroyed the thin tissue of trust that allows us to live together in harmony.
Crosland Stuart, of Crosland & Company, LLC, works with The Collaborative on marketing, recruiting, and content creation. Additionally, she also works in the areas of foundation consulting, communications, and is a literary agent.