Damaged, But Still Here

Every day, I look up at the traffic lights on my way to work. Some are battered all to hell. The August derecho slapped them around, broke off their frames, and left them hanging crooked. But they hung in there, and they’re still working. They’re still perched above the intersections, guiding drivers on their way. Those traffic lights are all of us in 2020. We got knocked around and maybe we don’t look or feel as good as we did back on January 1st. But through it all, we were resilient. And we’re still here, playing an important role.

There are tons of ways to describe 2020: exhausting, difficult, relentless, painful, frustrating, backbreaking. To say it’s been a tough year is a massive understatement. I would love to tell you exactly how I feel about 2020, but I work for a church, so “relentless” is the best I can do without overstepping the lines of decorum. The censored version of my honest thoughts would render the asterisk key so unrecognizable that the cops would have to call in the other keys to help identify it.

I’ve learned so much about other people this year. If you were showing everyone a superficial version of yourself in 2019, there’s no way you could continue that in 2020. This year wasn’t going to allow you to portray yourself as compassionate unless you meant it. We saw inconsiderate behavior from far too many people, including some I used to respect tremendously. Selfishness and misinformation transformed into fear and hate.

On the flip side, we discovered who actually gives a damn. These people have gone above and beyond to care for their fellow human beings. They wore masks not to protect themselves, but to protect those around them. They lost the opportunity to travel, attend concerts and ballgames, eat in restaurants, and spend time in person with loved ones, yet they soldiered on and made sacrifices for the common good. When the derecho hit Iowa in August, they helped neighbors clean up fallen trees. They invited their friends over to recharge their phones. They dropped off food. They opened their doors to people left temporarily homeless. We saw the worst of Mother Nature followed by the best of mankind.

The pandemic, the derecho, politics, hatred, misinformation, and a variety of personal heartbreaks have done a number on us this year. I know I’ve struggled terribly. Mentally, I’m exhausted. My only major vice is tasty food, so my car practically has its own reserved spot at Culver’s (double deluxe and cheese curds for the win). Do I scold myself every time I find myself in the drive thru? Yep. But in the year of not going anywhere, it’s my field trip.

I couldn’t take a vacation anywhere this year. Couldn’t hang out with my family like normal. Couldn’t go deal-hunting in bookstores and antique malls like I usually do. And work has been quieter than normal as people stay home to stay safe. So I’ve had ample time to engage in some deep thinking about my life, my health, my purpose, my beliefs, my talents, and my ability to help others. It’s disturbing and frustrating. It’s been frustrating for several years, even in the “before times.” But now, this year… this year has amplified everything. I question so much. It’s a dark hole to go down and I often feel like ripping my hair out (but alas, I have no hair to rip out). However, somehow, some way, I usually find my way back to a glimmer of hope. Despite all the jackwads out there who selfishly put their own interests first, I still think humans have an immense potential to be compassionate and giving. No man is an island. We couldn’t have survived this long as a human race without a considerable deal of selflessness along the way. The generous ones… those are the people carrying us into next year and beyond.

If you’re anything like me, you’re mentally and emotionally limping towards the end of 2020. Some days, my head is heavy, my heart is heavy, and my shoulders droop downward under the invisible strain of anxiety and stress. My energy may go missing from time to time, but I never think about quitting. There’s too much riding on my shoulders to just give up. If you’re an unselfish person, I imagine you feel the same way, too. We all play an important role in this world, whether we realize it or not.

If 2020 has ripped you apart, I’m asking you to hang in there, because that’s the same thing I’m asking of myself. I’m asking you to reach out and make sacrifices for your fellow man, even on the days when you feel like you’ve got nothing left to give. I’m asking you to wear a mask and get the vaccine if you’re able, because the alternative is to keep living like we have this past year. As time goes on, 2020 will have its own chapter in history books for years to come. Right here, right now today, we can decide if we want this year’s legacy to be one of selfishness and hate, or one of compassion and generosity. If 2020 has been a year we’d like to forget, then let’s make 2021 a year to remember.

4 comments

  1. Thank you for this. You summed up so much of why I left the church, compounded with why I haven’t been back. The ugliness that manifested itself there definitely manifested outside of those walls. But I thank you as well for the reminder and glimmer of hope. Thank you for being one of those glimmers.

  2. Thank you for sharing your thoughts Michael. Self reflection is a good habit and 2020 has definitely been a year that has provided lots of opportunity. Hopefully we will be better as a society because of the struggles, although I’m not so sure enough people will self reflect and be honest with themselves. Keep sharing as repeating the truth over and over has never been more important. Have a wonderful holiday!

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