Was 2020 a “Waste?”

I received a text that, among many things, said, “I worry about you and think of what you have missed for fear of getting Covid.”

I scroll through social media for all of a minute before seeing a meme or post that bashes on 2020.

I spent New Year’s Eve journaling with a mixture of sadness and ennui. Grieving might be a better word, for the loss of potential that January 1st once stood for.

I keep going back to that text, thinking of what it implies.

Did I miss out in 2020? Was 2020 a wash for us all?

A year spent caring for others is not a waste.

You get a year, 365 days, if you’re lucky. If you’re lucky you get another one, and another one. On and on, until you don’t. As of January 18th, there are nearly 400,000 people in the US alone who won’t get another one, due to COVID-19.

You get a year if you’re lucky and in the past year, there were a number of options for how you lived that year.

You could live life as you did before. But if you did that, and if you still do that, you’re running a risk of passing COVID onto someone else. COVID could have little to no effect on them, it’s true. It could also leave them with long-lasting, debilitating symptoms (as is true for 10 percent of cases). It could result in someone’s death. It’s resulted in death for nearly 400,000 people in this country.

Sign outside a coffeeshop that says “Masks are Love”

It sounds so simple and so heartbreakingly preventable. And yet, thousands of people deny the severity of the disease — one that is scientifically proven as serious and one whose long-term effects we know very little about — or, perhaps even worse, don’t care.

They don’t care that COVID disproportionately affects Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous populations. They don’t care that families have been decimated and communities torn apart. They can say that they do but actions speak louder than words, and not following CDC protocols puts people at risk.

They don’t care that a growing spread of disease is stopping families from having funerals for their loved ones, that someone’s parent or grandparent or friend is dying alone in a hospital.

They don’t care that healthcare workers are burned out like nothing we’ve seen before, that they are begging for us to do what they see as the bare minimum. And to be fair, wearing a mask and not holding social gatherings indoors is absolutely the minimum compared to working around the clock to save lives and putting one’s own life at risk.

If all you did this past year was followed what doctors and scientists recommended, you did more than enough.

If you followed the recommendations of doctors and scientists, your year was far from a wash. You might not be able to see the results, but make no mistake: your actions helped save lives.

There is nothing wasteful about that. Your 2020 was spent bravely and with love.

A year is what you make it.

What did I “miss out” on in 2020, as the worried texter stated? I traveled very little. I didn’t have any friend brunches and I certainly missed camping in Yellowstone.

But when I look back at that, I don’t feel like I missed out on anything.

And to be fair, I’m 30. I have a wonderful partner and am (probably, mostly) past my partying, wooh girl days (ones that I hope everyone gets to experience, should they desire it). I’m not here to speak on whether children, college students, new parents, single folks who long to meet someone, or those with canceled weddings and trips missed out.

All I can say for myself is that, in the past year, there was so much I gained.

I lost my two biggest freelancing clients. I gained two big ones. I grew my career and my skills and got a new full-time remote job. I wrote an article for HomeAdvisor that received zero edits!!

I spent nearly every day with my partner and the amount at which we’ve grown is a huge source of pride. We’ve had more conversations. We’ve had difficult discussions. We’ve planned more for the future. We still take such comfort in each other, still craving (and spending) quality time together. We’ve grown more in love.

I worked at slowing down and not feeling guilty about it. I began to engage more seriously and regularly in anti-racist practices and activism (but as always, I have so much to know and do still and the work is never done). I became better at holding fast to my boundaries, and even setting them in the first place (still a work in progress there, too). I began to confront my perfectionism.

A very special pandemic 30th birthday

I finally checked off a bucket list item of baking bread for the first time. And it turned out great! My cooking and baking skills took off. I read 33 amazing books. I watched so many amazing movies and shows. I led a camping trip and got the fire going in the rain. I hiked in some beautiful spots. I saw moose on several occasions, along with bison, wolves, bears, bighorn sheep, elk, pronghorn, and deer. I improved my photography skills.

I paid off my credit card. I set up an emergency savings fund. I started an IRA. I got to a place where I didn’t have to skimp at the grocery store.

None of this is meant to be a flex or a brag. All that I gained comes from privilege and luck — the hard work is secondary to the circumstances that made “success” even possible. And this year was far from perfect. In addition to the pandemic, there were wildfires and winds and monthly tears and job insecurity and loneliness and living in a town with no mask mandates and wishing the country was different, better.

The people who got by this year despite all the hardships and worked to keep others safe deserve the most praise. I can’t emphasize enough how important that is. I’ve known people who have lost loved ones, jobs, faced debilitating loneliness, and are still standing. And still put community care above their own wants. That is more impressive than any tangible “accomplishment” I could list.

We’ve had to take matters in our own hands while the government has utterly failed us and sacrificed its own people. We watch white supremacists get away with murder (literally) while peaceful protestors demonstrating against police brutality are beaten down. Decisions that were once easy have now become weighed down with questions of consequence and mortality. Mothers have lost their careers. Caregivers are worn out and have zero opportunity to recharge. We’re exhausted, and yet we keep trying to keep everyone safe.

I won’t criticize anyone who calls 2020 a wash. But if you did all that you could to protect yourself and others, I can’t fathom seeing it as such. You did one of the most noble and kind things you could do. You did the right thing, and you certainly did not waste a year.

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