We will all be glad to be rid of the stink of 2020. It was a year unlike any that we have ever seen. We were choked by wildfire, racked by social division and humbled by a pandemic that left us all-too-human and unprotected.

And none of our problems will be crushed by the ball that drops at midnight on New Year’s Eve. While there is great hope in the form of emerging vaccines for the coronavirus, herd immunity is still months away. Hundreds of thousands of Americans will likely die in the meantime. Millions more are jobless and worried about eviction and the future of their families. All of us are simply tired — tired of the restrictions to our freedom, tired of inefficiencies and inaction in aspects of our government response, tired of hearing that people we know have succumbed to this deadly disease.

It is cold comfort, but there are some lessons we may take forward that could ultimately improve life on this planet. Consider a few.

A new view of what and who is essential. In February, too few of us would have considered our delivery woman or the guy who stocks our grocery shelves or the custodian at the local hospital to be “essential.” Boy, were we mistaken. In time of grave global emergency, the supply chain became obviously more important than, say, pro football or the latest movie. We learned to appreciate many of the people we take for granted in our daily lives. If nothing else good comes of this terrible time, we pray that that appreciation continues forever more.

New understandings of the limits of technology. Many of us soured on the social media darlings that drove a curious economy in our region. While the president raged about “fake news” from our most professional news organizations, misinformation reigned across platforms like Facebook and Twitter where that unreliable information often benefited him. Meanwhile, we had always counted on the lights to come on with the flip of a switch, but PG&E taught us to endure darkness during stretches of an elongated wildfire season.

We also realized the promise of technology. We relied on the internet to connect us as never before. Millions of Americans suddenly worked from home by using the magic of WiFi, Google tools and a new app called Zoom. We used FaceTime to connect with far-flung family and even with the dying. The very vaccines we are counting on to end this nightmare are the result of years of mRNA research now coming to fruition.

We learned to pay more attention to our health. It’s true that a lot of us haven’t eaten right or have relied too heavily on alcohol, but many others began to take self-care seriously. We exercised more and walked our neighborhoods, perhaps for the first time. We took our temperature — both literally and figuratively. Doctors briefed us on complicated topics on the television. We took our own health in our own hands, wearing masks and gloves where appropriate. Many of us considered our own mental health as we have never done before.

Perhaps more than anything, though, we learned the importance of human connection. We missed Thanksgiving dinners and Christmas services. We mourned remotely and it was not enough. We went without first dates and school proms and book clubs and family vacations. And when we became ill with COVID-19, we were left by family at the hospital door, where we were received by professionals covered from head to toe in protective gear that precluded any human touch.

As the new year begins and we look for a brighter day, may we remember all that we lost but also all that we learned. That first hug with a friend will be a glorious thing.

— Clay Lambert

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