This year’s unique set of circumstances has not inhibited our ability to choose.
What a year it’s been. Bushfires burned more than 11 million hectares (27 million acres) across Australia,1 claiming the lives of 34 people and countless animals. The world was introduced to the coronavirus.2 Prince Harry and Meghan Markle stepped away from their roles as senior royals. A Ukrainian flight was shot down in Iran, killing all 176 people on board. Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, and seven others died in a helicopter crash. Brexit finally happened.
And that was just January. Things only continued to snowball from there.
As the months dragged or flew by, something interesting happened. We began to regard — and refer to — 2020 not so much as a run-of-the-mill calendar year but as a sort of villain or enemy constantly on the attack.
Global recession . . . yep, thanks, 2020. Beirut explosion . . . 2020 strikes again. Biden declared winner, Trump declares conspiracy . . . makes sense. It’s 2020.
I am guilty of this anthropomorphizing also. A few weeks ago, I took my car to a mechanic for what I thought was going to be a routine service. What I got instead was a rundown of all the things that needed to be fixed, the final quote being ten times more than the car is probably worth.
Just to be clear, I love my car. My dad bought it for me in May 2009, seven months before he suddenly passed away. It’s old, and the paint is shedding like a lizard, but it’s my car — the only one I’ve ever owned.
Upon realizing and accepting my car’s impending demise, I said to the mechanic, “2020, hey? Sounds about right.”
While such comments are tongue-in-cheek, a danger exists of taking this personification too far. We look at 2020 not so much as a record of events but as the reason for our hardships and failures, ultimately excusing us of any responsibility.
Some things we could pin on the pandemic, such as the loss of a job or the lack of time spent with family and friends. Yet, other things we must take ownership for. We can’t blame 2020 for the rise in domestic violence. We can’t blame 2020 for the increase in online abuse and revenge porn. We can’t blame 2020 for the loss of our spirituality. While this year’s unique set of circumstances has infringed upon the way we do life, it hasn’t inhibited our ability to choose. As noted by Austrian Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, “Everything can be taken from a man [or woman] but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”3
It’s much easier to focus on external events than to take inventory of our thoughts, words, and actions. However, that’s precisely what we are called to do. “Let’s take a good look at the way we’re living,” wrote Jeremiah, “and reorder our lives under God” (Lamentations 3:40, The Message).4
This is something we often aim to do at the beginning of a new year. However, as author Gretchen Rubin once said, “What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while.”5
Let us make every day count.
The original version of this commentary was posted by Adventist Record.
1. The total area burned increased to more than 17 million hectares (42 million acres) by the end of February.
2. While the first known cases happened in October or November 2019, the virus — known then as 2019-nCoV — was declared a public health emergency by the World Health Organization on January 30, 2020.
3. Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1946), 86.
4. See also 2 Corinthians 13:5.
5. Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness Project (New York: Harper, 2009), 11, emphasis supplied.