It’s 2021! Finally! A blank slate on which to write our dreams for the year ahead.
Remember the flash of optimism you felt just about this time in 2020, when everyone was doing gross things like hugging and shaking hands and talking about things like “Perfect Vision” and “No Time for Hindsight?” (20/20! Get it! Oh forget it, it’s over).
The year 2020 had such a promising ring to it. It was the perfect time for Mother Nature to throw a roaring dumpster fire at humanity and our unsuspecting plans.
Now there’s no denying that we’ve come through a hell of a year, and while we could come across as awfully gloomy-doomy if we were to highlight all we went through last year, the hellishness of 2020 was not the only takeaway.
2020 showed us all how resilient we can be. We may not have always lived up to our will to right ourselves after being knocked over again and again, but we learned what it takes to pop back up.
We learned how to keep our pantry shelves and our medicine chests stocked. We learned how to be better neighbors and husbands and wives and parents. We learned how to listen and we learned how to teach and we learned how to garden and we maybe even learned how to cook just a little.
We have so much more to learn in the years ahead.
Our editor is expecting to become a grandmother this year, and in perusing the world of new picture books, she kept coming back to a very strange new tale by Tomi Ungerer, “Nonstop,” a world of Edward Hopper color schemes, sharp shadows and collapsing buildings, in which a man in a newsboy cap rescues an insect-like baby and takes him through a harsh and unforgiving landscape, bonding with the infant in his charge.
At first glance this seems like a very bleak book. But if you read it closely you realize what it is calling on you to understand. It is calling on your inner capacity for resilience, for your purpose, to carry the next generation through to a safer time.
It seems as if Ungerer, who as a child lived through the German occupation of Alsace (his family’s home was even taken over by the Germans), is calling to us from another time, when his generation remade the ruins of post-war Europe. It is in these times that try our souls that our characters are forged. Few of us alive knew what it was to live through such an event until this year.
So what will this newfound resilience bring us in the years ahead? We are sure to face economic difficulties. We are sure to face more environmental catastrophe. We could even face another, different pandemic in the years ahead. We have learned so much about how to stay safe and we cannot forget these lessons.
While resilience is a hallmark of the aftermath of tragedy, we’d be remiss to not point out another hallmark of such times. Trauma is something we are now all intimately familiar with, in myriad different ways. From the trauma of watching a loved one die or being sick yourself to the vigilance required to protect the vulnerable in our families, to the changes in our daily lives and the devastation of so many businesses, we haven’t yet picked through the rubble of this grief.
Extra vigilance is one clue to whether or not you are experiencing trauma — hypervigilance is in fact one of the primary symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. If you notice yourself constantly worrying about the potential dangers of going about your daily life in this upended world, chances are you are experiencing some symptoms of PTSD. It would be surprising if you didn’t experience a little bit of this right now. But these symptoms needn’t become severe, and they by no means have to be permanent.
People are most likely to be traumatized by a catastrophic event when they feel powerless to stop it from happening. It may seem counterintuitive, but one of the best ways to protect yourself from trauma is to reach out, to lend a hand, and to work to rebuild what is all around us. Learning new skills that give you agency in a crisis can channel that hypervigilance into something productive. Taking these actions won’t fix everything, but it will help us all to realize that we are not alone. We have become unmoored and we will all need to find a new way forward. But we don’t have to do it by ourselves. Together, we will find a way. We always have.