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  • Writer's pictureKathleen O'Brien

2020 as the Year of Many “Firsts”

I asked my sister, “Hey how will you remember 2020?” Her reply, “No words.” I brushed her answer off and naturally saw it as sarcasm. But then when I seriously reflected on her answer, I began to think she was actually touching upon something deeper. I think a lot of people can resonate with her answer: a loss for words. This inability to put words to our experiences in 2020 seems to stem from our many “firsts” of this year. Most of us have been uprooted from our quotidian lifestyles and left to brace ourselves before events and feelings that we have never encountered. These could include getting sick by covid-19 or fear of others getting sick, kids having remote schooling, economic insecurity, confronting racial injustice, feelings of anxiety and loneliness, and/or political fervor. Trying to process these “first times” are disorientating and we only naturally ask ourselves: What just happened? Where do we go from here?

This sense of bewilderment and “loss for words” in 2020 made me turn to the “firsts” that the disciples experienced. As we read in the gospels, the disciples were going about their daily lives when all of a sudden, this random guy named Jesus calls them to drop everything and follow him. And then, after this first time of encountering Jesus and committing themselves to this new life, he dies! The climax of this dramatic halt found between Good Friday and the Resurrection would only leave the disciples asking: What just happened? Where do we go from here?

The standstill that 2020 has imposed on our lives is also like the time period between Good Friday and the Resurrection that the disciples experienced. This sudden halt is a result of our many “firsts” in 2020; so how do we respond? We can’t run away like some of the disciples did nor can we just forget about and be done with this year. Amidst this pervasive confusion that the disciples experienced and where we find ourselves today, what the Christian story leaves us with is hope. Even though we still don’t know what just happened and don’t know where we are going, we can be a witness to this abiding hope. To be sure, this hope is not a false optimism nor is it a blissful ignorance. Rather, this kind of hope is a persistent recalling of the past in order to bring about a transformed vision of the future. 2021 is not the end of 2020, but is the continuation of the many “firsts” we have experienced and will transform these experiences into concretized action that the world needs. We can only hope that our loss for words in 2020 will become the words that transform our reality in 2021 and beyond.

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