Set down the champagne. We need to talk.
For you, it’s 11:55 pm, Dec. 31st, 2019. You managed to make it till midnight this year, so congrats! But I’m writing to you from the end of 2020 to tell you that the good vibes are about to end.
2019 had its usual share of ups and downs. But 2020? It’s about to get a lot harder.
Where to start? Stock up on toilet paper and hand sanitizer, for starters. Loosen your grip on every goal you’re setting for the year. Go hug all your friends while you still can. Shake strangers’ hands. Sing with other people while it’s still safe. Go to one last movie in the theater.
Trust me on this.
Before I get too far ahead, I should tell you that you can stop worrying about whether to switch jobs so that you can work from home. You’ll laugh out loud about this by March.
Work, school, church, gym, shops, restaurants, sports — everything will look different very soon. Exhibit A: nurses, teachers, bus drivers, and grocery workers are about to become national heroes on the new front lines. No, I’m not exaggerating.
Nothing about 2020 is an exaggeration. Everything is about to happen. If you have a bingo card, now would be a great time to scribble down any random word combinations that come to mind. Murder hornets, tiger king, social distance, Zoom school — all of it is possible.
New Year’s resolutions? Don’t worry about them. Gyms are about to close for months, and everyone will start eating carbs to cope. Even when you get stuck at home for weeks, you still won’t get organized.
No vision board could see you through the mess of the months ahead, I’m sorry to say. But you’ll come through this year with a clearer vision of what matters: family, friends, and faith. 2020 will distill life down to its essentials, and you’ll learn what you love most.
You will be able to control so little of this year — except how you respond. Try to find reasons to rest and laugh, even when the world is on fire (literally). To help in whatever ways you can, you’ll need to take care of yourself along the way.
Brief moments of unity will burst like fireworks in the dark: nightly applause for health care workers, Italians dancing on balconies, Taylor Swift’s new album, the Hamilton movie (yes, it’s coming out early), and one weird week where everyone makes TikToks with Stevie Nicks and Ocean Spray.
But 2020 will divide people in sharp ways. Your own hometown will rise up and burn with righteous anger over the murder of a Black man at the hands of police. Across the world the names of the dead will be shouted in the streets: Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. Too many to count by year’s end, despite rallies for change and cries for justice.
I won’t lie: 2020 will be a tough year to love people. Politics and protests will get heated. You’ll be asked again and again to choose sides. You’ll have lots of hard conversations. You’ll hear story after story of oppression, injustice, sickness, and suffering. You’ll have to decide how to change your own life to make any difference.
I know this sounds dire. Honestly, much of it is. But don’t miss stubborn signs of hope. Humans will display remarkable resilience. Loved ones will find new ways to show support (wait till the whole town turns out to support high school grads with yard signs). Ordinary practices of patience, empathy, and acceptance will keep life going.
You’ll find bright spots, too. Your busy schedule is about to ease up. You’ll start taking the neighborhood walks and working out at home the way you always meant to. You’ll give thanks for small beauties and anything in stock at the grocery store and Twitter memes that make you laugh so hard you cry.
You’ll get good at new things this year: washing your hands, baking bread, cooking at home. You’ll learn new words and phrases: drive-by birthdays, doomscrolling, super-spreaders, quaranteam, maskne — no, these aren’t typos.
But forget about learning a new language or writing the great American novel. Surviving is the new thriving in quarantine. You’ll learn to be gentle to yourself. No one alive has lived through a time like this. All we can do is muddle through together.
I know I can’t keep you from the pain of this year. But if I had one wish for everyone standing where you are right now on the threshold of 2020, it would be this: try to be a good human.
To make it through this year, we’ll need the best of our collective compassion and creativity. Often both will seem in short supply. But hope is a stubborn truth. It burns small, bright light into the deepest darkness.
You’ll need every glimmer of light you can find this year.
Remember this: you have the right people in your life to get you through the hardest days. Family, friends, co-workers — they’ll help you weather the ups and downs. (Even if most of it will happen over Zoom and FaceTime.)
I wish I could change 90 percent of what 2020 will bring, for you and for everyone. But I can’t. All I can do is tell you that compassion and kindness — for yourself and for others — will be what carries you through to the end.
And it will end. Despite the doomsday nay-sayers, we’re poised to turn the calendar page again from where I stand. May 2021 be a better year, with healing and justice and hope in abundance.
But back to you. The countdown clock has almost reached midnight, and the big electric ball is dropping in Times Square. Take a good long look at the cheering crowd, thousands crammed together, laughing and singing and dancing and hugging. By year’s end you’ll never again take for granted a celebration or a crowd or a chance to cheer.
Here’s to what comes next. You will become stronger than you wanted, but let yourself grow softer, too. Everyone needs extra love this year, even from a distance. You, too.
Thinking of you in These Difficult Times (see if you could trademark that, by the way?),
Yourself, December 2020