Dumpster fire? No, 2020 was a great year!
All through the year, our news feeds have been inundated with messages like:
- "Kobe Bryant, Alex Trebek, Sean Connery, and RGB? This year can't get any worse."
- "First COVID and now murder hornets? Lord, just take me now."
- "This is crazy. I can't imagine bringing kids into this world."
- "2020 is a dumpster fire of a year. Wake me up with 2020 is over."
Amid such gloom, Pres. Nelson invited us to #GiveThanks and flood social media with gratitude. Surprisingly, many even in the Church criticized this prophetic counsel, arguing that it's insensitive to ask people to give thanks when things are so bleak. Words of gratitude in a year like this one would just be hollow and empty.
To anyone who thinks this year was a dumpster fire, let me set the record straight. That attitude is not just depressing and unhelpful– it's factually wrong. 2020 was a great year. You'll see what I mean if you choose to remember.
Choosing to remember
Often when we read Moroni 10, we immediately hone in on verse 4 of Moroni's promise (the invitation to pray and ask God for a witness). But focusing so heavily on verse 4 sometimes overshadows verse 3:
Behold, I would exhort you… that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it [God's mercy] in your hearts.
This is critical. Acknowledgment of God's mercy is a prerequisite to revelation. How can we "let the solemnities of eternity rest upon [our] minds" when all we see is the day to day grind? As Pres. Kimball taught, the word "remember" may be "the most important word in the dictionary." It appears 227 times in the Book of Mormon alone, making it one of the most oft-repeated commandments in the standard works. Most of our sins arise because "what we know is not always reflected in what we do." We fall short of the Savior's life because we don't "always remember Him." With that in mind, it may be helpful to look at the rings on our fingers and realize that CTR could very well stand for "Choose to Remember
Here are a few key concepts I invite us to "choose to remember" so we can see 2020 as the great year it truly was.
Choose to remember: What seems hard today will seem easy tomorrow
Humans have an almost infinite capacity for whining. We view life through the lens of our present problems. This lens magnifies today's troubles but shrinks the problems of the past and shades the past with a rose-colored tint.
This lens affects everyone. Even the righteous prophet Nephi seems to have suffered from such a momentary lapse of perspective. From his garden tower, he lamented being born when he was and spoke wistfully of his ancestor's time when the people were not so hard-hearted. But in the records we have, every prophet from Lehi to Omni spent considerable time detailing just how hard the peoples' hearts actually were. Addressing this tendency to rhapsodize about the past, Elder Holland offered this counsel:
Even in the golden age of civilization someone undoubtedly grumbled that everything looked too yellow…
I plead with you not to dwell on days now gone nor to yearn vainly for yesterdays, however good those yesterdays may have been… to be perennially dissatisfied with present circumstances and have only dismal views of the future…
The past is to be learned from but not lived in [and] faith is always pointed toward the future.
The struggles we faced this year were substantial, and many are not over yet. But for today, we would do well to take the skewed nature of our perspective into account when judging this year. Things are not nearly as bleak as we tend to perceive them at the moment, and if we remember that, we can move forward through the darkness with confidence that we will look back and realize it was lighter than we had realized. Let's take our complaining down a notch (or ten) and choose to remember the comforting maxim that what seems hard today will seem easy tomorrow.
Choose to remember: 2020 was the best year for humanity (so far)
Correcting our view of the present is only half the equation, though. In addition to magnifying today's troubles, our lens shrinks the problems of the past and shades the past with a rose-colored tint.
The past few weeks, I've been reading the Church's narrative history, Saints. My big takeaway so far is that the Primary songs about pioneer life are dead wrong. Whenever I think about pioneers, I am grateful not to have been a child then:
Accidents, sickness, and death plagued every settlement. Malaria, tuberculosis, scurvy, and other illnesses claimed about one person in ten. About half of the deceased were infants and children.
Contrast that to today. We are living amazingly well. Life expectancy globally is more than double what it was barely a century ago, and the growth curve hasn't leveled off yet. Infant and child mortality rates have plummeted to levels our great-grandparents couldn't have imagined possible. We are the healthiest, safest, longest-living generation in the history of history, and it's not close.
Not only are our lives longer and safer, but they are also better by every tangible metric. Kings and emperors of the past could only dream of the luxuries and comforts that we take for granted every day. Clean water, hot water, waste disposal, indoor climate control, vacuum cleaners, dishwashers, washing machines, dryers, vaccines, transportation, automation, the internet, grocery stores, and so much more. If you struggle to count your blessings, just imagine you were born 200, 100, or even 20 years ago. There will be so many new blessings, counting them will make your head spin. And the blessings keep on coming, non-stop, every single year, including 2020.
Pres. Monson tells a touching story of a family in the early 20th century who lost all their crops and livelihood right before Thanksgiving. The family was depressed, and the wife suggested they skip Thanksgiving because they had so little for which to give thanks. The father didn't say anything. He simply switched off all their recently installed electric lights and fired up their old oil lamp:
When there was only the lamp again, they could hardly believe that it had been that dark before. They wondered how they had ever seen anything without the bright lights made possible by electricity…
"In the humble dimness of the old lamp we were beginning to see clearly again… [Our] home…, for all its want, was so rich [to] us."
We shouldn't have to lose what we have to appreciate it. A lot of wacky stuff happened this year, but when we measure it with what came before, our focus sharpens, and we see clearly again, too. Choose to remember: 2020 was the best year for humanity (so far).
Choose to remember: The White House has little impact on your house
This election season was the most divisive of my lifetime– perhaps yours as well. Judging from the harsh rhetoric on both sides, it seems the only point we actually agree on is that a political loss on our side would mean the end of democracy as we know it.
Again, a look not too far into the past will tell us that's not the case. In the almost 250 years we've been a country, America has had great politicians, awful politicians, and every flavor in between. The heroes and the villains of history permeate both parties, and we can safely expect a mix of good and bad on both sides for the foreseeable future. That's not to say that we shouldn't hold and express political opinions (those who know me outside this blog know that I certainly don't hesitate to share my political ideas with whoever will listen). But we should all take a moment and acknowledge the humanity of "the other side." Even while defending your position, make it clear that no matter how misguided or even evil you may think the other side's political policies are, the bulk of them are good people who just don't see eye to eye with you. Remember who the real enemy is. Both sides got a win out of this election: the Democrats won the White House and Republicans completely outperformed expectations in Congressional races. Neither side has unilateral control of the levers of power. We'll keep disagreeing, we'll bluster and we'll debate, the political process will play out, and life will go on.
Unless you worked for the White House itself, chances are your day-to-day life didn't really change when Bush took the lead, when Obama was inaugurated, or when Trump was sworn in. As a political junkie, I'll be the say it: the most important things in life have little to nothing to do with who is sitting behind the fancy desk in the Oval Office. Choose to remember: Politics is not life; the White House has little impact on your house.
Choose to remember the COVID miracles
There are many, many miracles present even in the COVID pandemic. Unfortunately, many bristle when such miracles are mentioned. In their minds, any positive language related to COVID is the pretext to ignore the pandemic and ditch the safety protocols wholesale. So let me be clear and cut that line off right now: as I share some of the many COVID miracles, please remember: by all available data, COVID-19 is a highly transmissible virus. It is far more deadly to adults than the day-to-day we have encountered before. It is the worst global outbreak we have seen in decades, and we are obligated to heed our Prophet's counsel and take it seriously. The blessings and miracles I'm sharing in this post are not intended to encourage defiance of protocols or downplay the real tragedies.
That disclaimer out of the way, here are a few of the many reasons we have to be thankful even in regards to this novel virus.
Choose to remember: we could have had a far deadlier virus
At the time of this writing, we are sitting at 337,000 deaths attributable to COVID-19. That is a tragically high number. But as high as that number is, that's only a tiny fraction of the 19.5 million diagnosed cases, which itself is only a portion of the actual infections. According to the CDC, this coronavirus is highly survivable:
- 95% of 70+ yr old patients with COVID survive.
- 99.5% of 50-70 yr olds survive.
- 99.98% of 20-50 yr olds survive
- 99.997% of < 20s survive
Those stats don't factor out those with conditions that make them more vulnerable. If you are healthy, your chances of survival are even higher than those listed by the CDC above.
This is the first significant global pandemic we have encountered since globalization made the world a much smaller place. Imagine if our first experience with a large global pandemic had a death rate like the killer viruses we've seen in times past (ebola, SARS, smallpox, polio, Marburg, etc). Even while we acknowledge the dangers and act accordingly, we can certainly give thanks that COVID-19 is relatively mild compared to the illnesses we've seen in the not too distant past. While you mask up and socially distance, take comfort and choose to remember: we got off easy– we could have had a far, far deadlier virus.
Choose to remember: COVID largely spares kids
I've been reading the Church's awesome history book, Saints (Volume 2). It was chilling to read this account of the Saints in Winter Quarters:
Malaria, tuberculosis, scurvy, and other illnesses claimed about one person in ten. About half of the deceased were infants and children.
Sadly, this was par for the course for the entire world throughout human history. Remember, it wasn't that long ago that we saw 10-yr-olds in iron lungs and elementary school children in wheelchairs. Sickness, especially respiratory illnesses like COVID, traditionally prey hungrily on precious little children.
But by some miracle, COVID largely leaves kids alone. If you're under 20, you're more likely to die from the seasonal flu, fires, drowning, or even murder. Again, this isn't to downplay the 100 or so families in the country who have lost children to this virus. Our hearts go out to them. But while we take preventative measures, we can also rejoice in the miracle that for once in human history, the children are mostly getting a pass. Choose to remember: COVID largely spares kids.
Choose to remember the vaccine miracle
Most vaccines take years or even decades to develop. But in 2020, scientists across the globe pulled together and developed 3 different, highly effective COVID vaccines in a matter of 9-10 months. I consider this a major achievement for humanity. This is seriously right up there with the moon landing for its scope and its benefit to mankind. 2020 was the year that we did the unimaginable. This could not have happened 100 years ago, 50 years ago, or probably even 15 years ago! I suspect that in the coming years, more and more details will emerge that show only the technological advances available in the 2020 era could have pulled this off this fast. I just worry that once we've all been poked and move on with life, we'll forget what an amazing blessing this is and take it for granted. When you go get your shot, take a moment, and say a prayer of thanks. Choose to remember the vaccine miracle.
Choose to remember: 2020 was the best year to have a lockdown
Most of us have been in fluctuating states of lockdown for 9-10 months now. This has devastated certain sectors of the economy. Air travel has stalled, cruise lines are going under, gasoline demand has tanked, movie theaters are reeling, and many restaurants already have or shortly will bite the dust. Many say that we're reaching the breaking point– the stock market just can't bear this kind of bull any longer (last one, I promise). US unemployment went from historically low unemployment (3.5%) in February to almost 15% in April when lockdowns first hit (the highest since the Great Depression).
As dire as that is, imagine for a moment what would have happened if we had tried to lock in a year that wasn't 2020. The number of people with high-speed internet in their homes was at a record this year. Working from home has never been a possibility for as many people in the world as it has been this past year. This is what has kept the unemployment rates from bouncing up over Great Depression levels.
Now that things have calmed down somewhat and many non-remote businesses have re-opened in a modified fashion, we're sitting at about 6.7%. The Fed estimates that we'll gradually recover back to "normal" unemployment (5.5%) sometime in 2021 as lockdowns loosen even further. The recovery so far has been remarkably quick, and we have the strong pre-lockdown 2020 economy to thank for that.
But all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Fortunately, 2020 came through for us there, too. 2020 gave us more streaming services than I could name. You can watch almost anything in the comfort of your own home. Not a binge-watcher? In 2020, we had millions of ebooks and audiobooks to choose from to keep us entertained. And don't forget the online courses, the endless stream of YouTube videos, podcasts, libraries, and news sources. Never in the history of the world was it possible to stay at home all day, every day, and never get bored.
Choose to remember: No one likes a lockdown. But with a strong economy, technical advances in remote work, and endless entertainment options, 2020 was the best year to have one.
Reflecting with gratitude
I guess what I'm saying is yes, this year has been tough. On an individual level, it may even be the worst for many people who are struggling through and relying on the promise that their struggles will "have an end." Our hearts go out to them, and we ought to do everything in our power to mourn with them.
But at the 1,000 ft view, we see a much brighter picture than we see on the news and social media. No one likes hunkering down, skipping vacations, and downsizing weddings. But despite all of that, this year was still one of the best years for humanity by every available metric. 2020 was uniquely situated to accommodate the struggles when no other time in history could. So please, give 2020 a break. See the hand of God in all the things that came together to allow us to sit and gripe from the comfort of our own homes. Back to Elder Holland:
We should honor the Savior’s declaration to "be of good cheer." (Indeed, it seems to me we may be more guilty of breaking that commandment than almost any other!)…
Yes, life has its problems, and yes, there are negative things to face, but please accept one of Elder Holland’s maxims for living– no misfortune is so bad that whining about it won’t make it worse…
"The spirit of the gospel is optimistic; it trusts in God and looks on the bright side of things. The opposite or pessimistic spirit drags men down and away from God, looks on the dark side, murmurs, complains…"
Speak hopefully. Speak encouragingly, including about yourself. Try not to complain and moan incessantly…
The past is to be learned from but not lived in [and] faith is always pointed toward the future.
I'm excited for 2021 and pray it will be easier in many ways. But I for one choose to remember that in the grand scheme of things, 2020 was a great year!