2020: A full and useful year?

2020: A full and useful year?

Having now entered year 2021, this short piece is a reflection on what may be the fullness of the past year and what may be usefully carried into the current one. Perhaps like your own experience, dear reader, I had a relative to die from COVID-19 complications and several extended family members who suffered from the virus but, thankfully, recovered. In my broader social circles, including the workplace, many more deaths and suffering as a result of COVID-19 have happened. What I initially imagined, in March 2020, to be an overblown issue, I am now humbled and corrected in light of the indisputable death toll across the globe as well as among those I know personally.

Is 2020 a year you would like to retract? Is it a year you care to scratch out from the annals of world history? Perhaps it is a season in your life you think is worthy of being thrown into the bin labeled “Least Favorable” or “Recycle” or To Be Discarded”?

I agree a multitude of heavy and mournful realities are streaked across the past year. Good riddance to it! – is a response option, no doubt. But here is another option: Let’s not waste what 2020 had to show us.


The past year sorely reinforced the fact of the fragility of life. With the marvels of modern medicine and technology, there apparently remain viruses and emergent disease dynamics that still befuddle human knowledge and ingenuity. Protective factors are proven to be limited; the predictability of life is unmistakably on shaky ground, per 2020.

Hear what John Fawcett, a British Baptist theologian and pastor, stated (in 1773, no less):

Our days are but a span, a hand-breadth, an inch or two of time. Life is but a vapor that appears for a little season, and then vanishes away. Life is but like a flower of the field, which quickly fades, withers and dies away. Our breath is in our nostrils, ever ready to depart, and any motion of our lungs may be the last.

Life is fragile, and being better reminded of this truth is a good that can be gleaned from 2020.

How about the reality of dreadful, if not, worst fears coming to fruition? Yes, if 2020 displayed anything, it is that terrible scenarios imagined by subject matter experts can indeed come true. There may be computational models that portray a litany of projections, by which governmental agencies may endeavor to prepare ahead, but such projections are only as reliable as the data which the models are based upon as well as being contingent upon the quality of know-how (which is inherently tentative) of human programmers who devise the software in the first place. In other words, what may be conjured today as potential nightmare scenarios for future are necessarily tied, and confined, to the scope of what is known today and simply cannot account for what is not yet known. Given this, 2020 revealed preparations for future devastations are necessarily bound (shackled) to the unfolding of time, knowledge, and soundness of that knowledge. Even when worst cases are thought of, none can know how bad it can really be when it comes to pass in the real world. A healthy dose of humility for humankind can be gleaned from 2020.

How about the irresistible vortex of death? 2020 has been a year of death. The past year manifested that death can be just a cough away or be contracted by ‘mask-less’ social proximity. The mortal nature of human beings is no new news, but COVID-19 stripped away some of the layers of death-denial and death-defiance in the public square and from public consciousness. To be sure, COVID-19 did not introduce death to any person but simply sped up the process of demise that was already at work. Death is ever present among the living. The reminder of this truth can also be gleaned from 2020.

What now?

It is a genuine and instructive query. If anything of the fragility of life has been better realized then you and I must find ways to make each passing moment and day count and more enriched. If anything of how nightmare scenarios can actually come to pass has been better noted then you and I must find ways to diminish as many future regrets as possible by engaging in the hard tasks of forgiving others, making reconciliations, extending patience in relationships, despising procrastinations, and more heartily adopting a sense of urgency of the times. What is more, if anything of the irresistible vortex of human mortality has been acutely marked then you and I must be in busy preparation for our personal end (including leaving wonderful legacies!). If the fact and experience of 2020 may be used to drive us to these actions then 2020 has indeed been a full and useful year.

Much courage to us all in making 2021 a year of application of what was revealed in 2020.

About the Author

Paul Moon is husband to Esther. Their children are Samantha, Christopher and Andrew. Paul studied psychology and mental health counseling, and has a PhD in adult education. He is the author of Lost? When people we really like die, a book for children, and Grieve, published by Centering Corporation. Paul tries to serve others through counseling, teaching, co-learning, and becoming an attentive audience to their stories.

Mar 12th 2021 Paul J. Moon

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