An Open Letter to the Survivors of 2020

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An Open Letter to the Survivors of 2020Dear reader,

First, let me say that I’m somewhat uncomfortable with the word “survivor,” for a few reasons. Having survived a so-called “good” kind of cancer, I know the weight that such a word carries, the implication that we, the ones still here, are inherently better — more worthy, more deserving — than the ones who aren’t.

But allow me to use the word for lack of a better one. Because the fact that you’re reading this — and that I’m writing this to you — means we did survive. We survived a year that tried to kill us.

For some, it was the obvious and ever-present threat of a pandemic.

And if that wasn’t enough to contend with, there were other things threatening our lives, our loved ones, our livelihoods, our mental health, our very beings. Small and big things, both trivial and devastating.

In a year when the threat of a new virus would have been enough, it was only the tip of the iceberg for too many. It’s been a year of constant, relentless anxiety, something the human body isn’t built to endure. And maybe it didn’t feel like a battle. Maybe you think it’s a little dramatic to describe what we’ve been through as a fight.

But it has been a fight. 

It’s been a fight for normalcy. 

The pandemic might’ve shut everything down, but it didn’t stop the world from spinning. And as the months wore on, businesses flickered back into life, schools reopened, and life tried its best to find a way. In a year where nothing has been normal, life continues to march ever onwards.

And you did it, friend. You made lemonade out of virus-laden lemons. You showed up, took care of your kids, your spouse, yourself. Perhaps nothing looked normal, but you did your best to live your life in an unpredictable environment. Life finds a way because people find a way. And you found a way. You adapted, and you made “not normal” into a new, temporary way of life.

It’s been a fight for peace. 

Every day, you woke up to another square on the calendar, took a breath, and held it — what would today be like? Early on, it felt like headline after headline brought a fresh wave of bad news, and you didn’t know how much longer you could take the noise of it all. Your social media feeds were flooded with anger and hopelessness and sadness — but also memes and well wishes and check-ins from friends who you could no longer see in person.

But you curated those feeds, culling the good from the bad, limiting your sphere of influence so that a constant stream of bad news didn’t overwhelm your senses. Because in a year when you couldn’t control what was happening in the world, you could control the information you took in.

Good for you. It wasn’t perfect, and the noise of the world still wins sometimes, but you’ve made it here, to the end of the year, knowing a little more about how to create the environment you need to take care of yourself.

It’s been a fight to put one foot in front of the other.

If you’re reading this, then you made it to this moment, and that’s enough. Sometimes, just showing up is the victory. And again, that’s not to denigrate the people who aren’t with us anymore, the loved ones you might have lost this year because of COVID or other reasons. It’s just recognition for arriving here, at the end of 2020, battered but not broken.

And I know you’re not broken, though it might feel that way, because you’re reading these words. It’s been an undeniably hard year, more so for some and less so for others. But you put one foot in front of the other, you made it to today, you showed up. Take the participation trophy. Because in 2020, participating is winning.

Don’t fall for the lie that because others have it worse, you have no right to complain. It’s not a contest, and you don’t need permission or approval to grieve for the things that hurt you. Your feelings are valid.

It’s been a fight for hope.

You might have faced darkness this year, but you saw enough light to keep trudging through the mud of uncertainty and fear and mind-numbing boredom, enough to try again another day. That day is today, and I’m glad you’re here. However small that light is, finding hope where there doesn’t seem to be any isn’t easy, but you did it.

But maybe your year wasn’t so dark, really. You kept your job and stayed in touch with friends. Aside from wearing a mask and venturing out less, you lived your life relatively unchanged from The Before Times. If that’s the case, then maybe you were the hope for someone, whether you knew it or not. You represented a kind of hope that the pandemic will end, that things will get back to normal. You kept going, undeterred by the year and its challenges, and that in itself is hope in action.

As we head into 2021, the path remains unclear. But there’s a light at the end of the dock.

In just a couple weeks, we’ll ring in the new year, perhaps with more enthusiasm than we have in other years. We won’t be surrounded by big crowds and a lively party, but we’ll celebrate nonetheless as we anticipate a fresh start and look forward to the end of the pandemic in the coming months.

Hang in there, reader. You’ve made it this far. And even though putting one foot in front of the other can feel impossible sometimes, I want you to know and believe that it’s not.

And, as a certain wizard once said, remember that even in the darkest of times, you can find happiness if you remember to turn on the light.

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