I think it’s safe to say that if a store sold years for a set price, each of us would be standing in line at the customer service counter, asking for a refund on 2020. It ended up being the year that wasn’t. So much that was planned by all of us evaporated in the face of an invisible virus. I was supposed to see Michael Bublé in concert at the Times Union Center in March—it was postponed. I was excited to have second-row seats for Dear Evan Hansen at Proctors in June—that got pushed to at least a year away. Weddings, concerts, parties and even funerals were all told to take a number and sit in the back row and wait for someone to call them up later, if at all. What a disaster. What a waste.
But new years bring new hope, and I have to believe, with all of my heart, that 2021 is the year we find our footing again. I just turned 58, so I’ve lived a bit and have seen some tough times. I’ve buried my parents and been through a difficult divorce. I’ve held a child who was 20 months old and not speaking a single word and have taken the little one to the Center for Disability Services to be evaluated. Want a reality check on what really matters in this world, and how petty most things are? Sit in the hallway of a hospital waiting for a child to get well, holding your breath as strangers read charts and run blood work to figure out if something is wrong or if something is WRONG.
Those are hard times many of us face each day, but then came 2020 and in many ways, it said, “Hold my beer.” The year that just was tried to break us in every conceivable way—not only because of the loss of human life, but also via the devastation to our economy and small businesses, the lifeblood of our community. It was a classic double bind: It presented many people with two options and both were bad. Go visit grandma, and you might make her sick. Stay away from grandma, and you might break her heart. Open your business and face a fine. Close your business and face foreclosure.
I’m reminded of the story about the Zen master who has 100 students line up outside his home. One by one, the students come in and find the teacher holding a thick, hard bamboo stick. He says to each student, “If you tell me this stick is real, I will hit you with it. If you tell me the stick is not real, I will hit you with it. If you say nothing or try to leave, I will hit you with it.” The first 99 students each go in, and a moment later come out with a welt from being struck by the Zen master, because any answer they gave resulted in a painful blow. Then the last student goes in—the smallest girl in the school—and when the Zen master presents her with the same “double bind” proposition, she yanks the stick out of his hands and breaks it over her knee.
This terrible virus is the stick, and no matter what move we made in 2020, someone always seemed to get hurt. But no more. The vaccines are arriving now, and thanks to bright scientists and lab technicians—all those kids who got an A+ in biology, chemistry and physics in high school and were never invited to sit at the cool kids’ table at lunch—we are finally being given the chance to break that damn stick!
When I tell you that better days are coming soon for all of us, I truly mean it. If ever there was a time to hang on a little bit longer and not lose faith, this is it, my friends. It is also a good time to reflect on what just happened and look hard for silver linings in those dark clouds you just endured. Because of the lockdown, did you spend more time with people you loved? Did you talk more about things that mattered? Did you see food pantry lines on the evening news and then look to your full cupboard and feel blessed? Did the masks force you to look into people’s eyes and see them in a way you didn’t beforehand? Who knew the man stocking the shelves at the supermarket or delivering the cases of toilet paper was a hero? We always respected our nurses and doctors, but now, after this, there aren’t enough statues to erect in the town square to thank them for what they’ve done. Someone close to me, in my own family, donned the head-to-toe personal protective gear and worked in the ICU, holding people’s hands as they died. “Hero” doesn’t begin to cover it.
So even though 2020 may feel like a wasted year, it wasn’t. If nothing else, it reminded us how lucky we all are and that perhaps we’ve all been a little too entitled or have taken too many things for granted taking things for granted. Whenever we do eventually break that stick, we’ll gather in large groups and remember what it’s like to just be together, what it’s like to be loved. When that finally happens, what a glorious year it will be.