I recently heard that it may be helpful to write a letter as a way to process grief and loss.
Because loss comes in many different forms and there is no one size fits all to grief, I want to say goodbye to you and process my losses in a way that makes sense to me. Since I’m writing to an inanimate object, I will try not to get bogged down by my perpetual fear of offending anyone or hurting anyone’s feelings.
You know the song lyric that goes, “You don’t know what you got til its gone?” 2020, you made those lyrics realer than anything. As I have been processing my grief since March, I realized that most of the things I lost, I didn’t appreciate until they were gone.
The first thing I lost this year is the belief that I don’t have to pick a side. You taught me that the lines are tattooed into the sand so tightly that we must choose. I thought I could avoid that. But it’s not true. We must pick sides, and we must use extreme assumptions. For example: If I believe that black lives matter, I’m a Marxist. If I am pro-medical freedom and body autonomy, I don’t care about other people. If I question Fauci, I’m a conspiracy theorist. If I do my own research, I’m anti-science. If I don’t vote for Trump, I’m not a Christian. If I do vote for Trump, I’m a racist. There is no middle ground, no exception, no gray areas. You are the year that forced us to believe we must all play your twisted version of Red Rover.
At some point during your reign of terror, maybe around May, I lost the silly notion that as humans, we can assume the best about each other and offer one another the benefit of the doubt. These days, thanks to the ease of social media, I see that we only assume the worst, then swiftly cut contact, de-friend, unfollow, cancel anything that we disagree with. We make posts that start with, “I’m about to get real, and if you don’t like it, block me and unfriend me.” I’m grieving the belief that I have the option to share that which offers encouragement and hope, not division and dissent. Many times, what I thought would be encouraging, was offensive.
The other big loss I experienced this year, something I didn’t know was a luxury until now, is the loss of smiles. Thanks to the cooler weather, I’ve started walking and running outside again, and it is such a gift to receive a real life toothy smile from a stranger as I’m passing by. Many people walk by expressionless, not saying a word to me. Were they like that before? I don’t know. But 2020, you have made me hyperaware of how other people interact, or fail to interact, with one another. I really miss smiling. Facial expressions are important to my psychological well-being, and I didn’t know it until now.
I feel as if I’ve lost connection to other humans. Maybe it’s because I now feel pressured to pick a side, and the strong dividing lines cause me to be wary of others. Maybe I never had the connection I thought I had. Maybe it’s because most of the connections I have now happen via blue light from a screen. Either way, the loss of believing we can connect despite differences – that cuts me deep. I’m still processing this big loss.
I’ve never been accused of being too optimistic, but thanks to you, 2020, I lost what little optimism and positivity I had about the future. I’ve grown skeptical, negative, and pessimistic that things will ever change. I grieve the loss of expectation for life to be the way it has always been – because I fear it never will be again. I remember hearing about this “new virus,” right after I met you, and thinking naively to myself, “Maybe this is the thing that will draw us together. Maybe this is how we truly become the united states.” Silly me and my silly optimism.
Your presence taught me that contradictory virtue signaling is more important than true preventative measures and evidence-based health. You taught me that politics have made science completely irrelevant. You taught me how powerful and contagious fear is. You taught me that it’s okay to sacrifice mental health for immune protection – which contradicts my belief that mental health and immune health are connected. In fact, you showed me how often I contradict myself. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of trying to see both sides – and that isn’t acceptable during YOUR year. No, you are a year that doesn’t value an open mind.
Speaking of contradiction, I say I’m not an optimist, but I can’t end my letter to you without sharing what I’ve gained. You showed me that there are certain comforts I valued too much, maybe to the level of idolization. And for that, I thank you for helping me see what’s really important. You showed me that I allow other people’s views and opinions to paralyze me and cause me to doubt my own credibility. Not anymore. You taught me what a rebel I am, that my refusal to just do what I am told and not question may actually be a gift. It may lead to deeper healing and new exploration. It may lead me to deeper spiritual, emotional, and physical health. It may lead to empathy.
Oh, you don’t like that word, 2020? Empathy? Does it make you nervous? Does it make you want to tighten your grip on me and my cognitive dissonance? Well guess what? I refuse to let your presence in my life change the way I connect with other people. I refuse to let you hinder me from sharing ways to improve mental health. I refuse to stop listening to viewpoints that are different than mine in order to seek understanding. I refuse to let our brief meeting keep me from continued growth. I refuse to sit in my grief, helpless and beaten down by your onslaught.
Because in the end, you were just another year. You hold no more power over me than your buddy 1991 (although that guy was pretty mean, not gonna lie). You don’t define me. What I did or didn’t do with you doesn’t give me value. The fear, the worry, the heartache, the disappointments – every year has those. You’re nothing special.
Know this – what you taught me about myself and others will pave the path I forage in 2021. The foundational lessons I learned will propel me forward. So instead of wallowing in your destruction, I will say goodbye to you, along with my old ways of thinking, and embrace what is next. You are – as they say – history.