No one wants to relive 2020. It was a year of pandemic, racial strife, economic crisis and climate catastrophes. This year, 2021 promises to be better; people are being vaccinated, jobs are returning, and a degree of congregant life is returning. Social injustice remains a scourge, but there is an awakening and renewed need for and action with diversity, equity and inclusion.
Amid this hope, if we close our minds to 2020, we will be doing ourselves a disservice. We experienced a world turned genuinely upside-down. If we shut our minds to what we experienced, we will have missed a great lesson. It is a lesson forged in loss of proximity, jobs and health. We cannot forget, nor should we, what we experienced as a culture and as individuals.
Lessons to remember
And so, we need to grieve. Millions around the world have died. Many millions more have lost jobs. Some even their identities as people who work and contribute. We must commemorate these losses in our memories and keep the memories of loved ones close to our hearts.
We need to be resilient. Good news. We are. We did not endure the suffering of this past year by lying down. We stood tall as possible and continued working when possible, educating our children, and most of all, caring for the sick. We, as a people, answered the call. Our losses have transformed us. We are resilient.
We need to act with empathy. What occurred with disease and hardship was a discovery that viruses do not distinguish between rich and poor, though the latter are more at risk. We re-discovered our humanity, the very fabric that binds us together as humans. Caring for one another is innate.
And we need to celebrate. We have endured a year that was something unprecedented. We survived. We made it. That is no small accomplishment. Our joy in what comes next should not blind us to our losses. Instead, it should remind us of their sacrifice.
Challenge for leaders
Leaders can serve as beacons of hope. Reminding us of the past but pointing toward a better future. The values we held in January 2020 will be the values that help us create the “new normal.” It will build upon what we have learned and is enriched by the sacrifices we have made.
In the final battle scene of Saving Private Ryan, Captain Miller (Tom Hanks), lying mortally wounded, pulls Private Ryan (Matt Damon) close and says, “Earn this.” It was the captain’s last order; make the sacrifice of war worth it in your future life.
Our challenge is the same. And we can earn it with our example. Let us work together to make our future more prosperous, more generous, more compassionate. That would be a fitting tribute to a year of trouble and tribulation. We have endured.
We suffer together. We persist together.
We will emerge, let’s hope, a better people.
But if we are, it will involve personal change.
Each of us is doing what we can.
Adapted from themes of Grace Notes: Leading in an Upside-Down World.