What lessons from 2020 will you bring to 2021?

(Photo credit: National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics, Forest Service NW, USDA, NOAA, Clay Banks on Unsplash)

The end of any year is a time of contemplation. As the holiday season arrives, we think of ourselves and others, and we refresh connections. We desperately recall the new years’ resolutions made in January so that we can dust them off and try again. We tally up the year’s highs and lows and file them away to provide our memories’ color commentary.

And yet. 2020.

The collective does not determine the worst year of anyone’s life. If it did, 2020 would be a strong contender.

The pandemic that has defined 2020 has brought pain and sadness to far too many families and communities. The loss of lives has been overwhelming on its own. It also is far from a complete picture of the devastation wrought by COVID-19.

As with any disaster, whether a hurricane, a conflict, a fire, there was an exact cause. And for many, it was followed by waves upon waves of other crises that have affected everyone differently.

Food insecurity. Job losses. A housing crisis. Education gaps. Health inequities. Psycho-social concerns. A nationwide reckoning on racial justice that is overdue and all too slow in progressing. A record-breaking hurricane and wildfires season. The continued protracted displacement crises around the globe.

The crashing waves of 2020 seemed like no other.

More than chaos
Yet, along with the turmoil, 2020 was also defined by a rebirth of empathy. There was beauty amid the negativity that threatened to overwhelm many of us when partisan rhetoric reached new frenzied heights and selfishness led to hoarding food and household goods.

Nonprofits continued to support communities in every way they could, even as they, too, faced funding challenges. Health care workers reported to work each day, knowing that they put themselves and their families at risk in doing so. Teachers taught through a medium on which few had training and with inconsistent support from school districts and the federal government. Donors gave in larger numbers and amounts than ever before to the Center for Disaster Philanthropy and countless other organizations to address the concurrent disasters.

The list goes on. We all know the stories of everyday heroes within our communities who dug deeper and did more.

Humanity rose like a phoenix from the ashes of the pandemic.

And so, for me, despite all the challenges of 2020, I see great possibilities in what we take into 2021.

I will remember the incredible energy and connectivity of the Black Lives Matter protests, where masked up amongst the multitudes, I witnessed the pain of our nation on display. And yet, I walked away full of hope. Hope fed by the scale of caring on display – a group of protesters who helped a woman overcome by emotions and heat, strangers who distributed snacks and water for free, and the tremendous attention to protesting safely during a pandemic.

I will remember the compassion on display at a coronavirus testing site in Washington, D.C., in the days before Thanksgiving. People waited patiently in long lines, thanked the volunteers and donated to the food drive across the street. An 82-year-old man in front of me told me not once, not twice, but three times that I should make sure to stop by and get a Thanksgiving food basket if I was in need.

I will remember the blessings of family and friends, a fact that I have often taken for granted. The lockdown suddenly gave me time to be present. To reach out to friends to whom I don’t speak often enough because life gets in the way. To have dinner with the family as the usual competitors for our attention have been canceled. To check in regularly with loved ones far away.

What of the goodness of 2020 will you take into 2021?
As 2020 draws to a close, I invite our community to contemplate on some lessons from the past year:

  • Keep hope and pass it on to others. As a friend recently reminded me, empathy has cascading dividends. We don’t always know other people’s stories, nor do we need to. Compassion is even more powerful when it is given unbidden.
  • Continue to give in the ways that you can. Monetary gifts are always welcome, but so are your time, your energy and your support.
  • Remember the underlying issues that have caused the disasters within the disaster of 2020. Recovery will take time, much more time than the vaccine roll-out. Mobilize to create real, transformative change by building the power and amplifying the voices of those disproportionately affected by disasters.

Thank you for your extraordinary support and partnership with the Center for Disaster Philanthropy this past year. With $29.5 million disbursed to over 50 countries across six continents, CDP, along with our grantees, has helped hundreds of thousands of people on their path to recovery this year. Our collective efforts prove that together, we can realize a world where the impact of disasters is minimized by thoughtful, equitable and responsible recovery for all. I wish you a healthy, prosperous new year full of goodness.