Wednesday, January 27, 2021 -
Print Edition

2020: A year of benefits and better habits

The terrible losses and disruptions of 2020 are known to us all. Death, disease, job loss, food insecurity, mental strain, upended schools, polarization. We need not rehearse this. We know it.

Perhaps less evident are the many benefits that this pandemic has catalyzed. How they stack up against the losses, I shall leave to others to evaluate — but we have definitely had a year of benefits and better habits. It is worth enumerating them and giving thanks for them. We should not let the COVID overshadow them.

Life is less hurried. Life is less of a madhouse. There is more time to think. It has become evident in 2020 that contemplation is not a luxury, no longer a forgotten art, but a valuable part of every day.

Life is less reflexive. Less full of obligations that we just have do to because . . . we just have to. No, it has become evident in 2020, not everything that we thought we just have to do, do we have to do.

Life is less material. It became evident in 2020 that all the shopping we could not do enabled us to see that while some shopping was necessary and rightly missed, or switched online, other shopping was not necessary. The time spent, the items to be purchased — not necessary.

Life is less arrogant. It became evident in 2020 that not every social or medical deficiency has a ready answer. It became evident that experts could grope with uncertainty the same as the rest of us. In 2020, room for acknowledgement of a higher power opened up. We have not been in control, accustomed though we became to thinking that humanity can control anything and everything.

Life has been less selfish. Less centered on our needs, our wants. It has become evident in 2020 that humanity can respond to the needs and wants of others, sometimes by direct action, other times simply with empathy.

Life has been less self-enclosed. It has become evident in 2020 how others live — from restaurant operators to journalists to healthcare workers. We have learned a lot about the rewards and hazards of professions not our own.

Life has become less obsessed. It has become evident in 2020 that much as we might genuinely miss the likes of a normal season of professional football, hockey, theater and concerts, it is possible to live without it.

Life has become less routine. It has become evident in 2020 that relationships are more treasured and more paid attention to, even if only via Zoom or other indirect contact.

Life has become less mindless. It is has become evident in 2020 that even as we have all come to be more dependent on electronic media for work and purchasing, we also find ourselves more critical of the mindlessness of endless flashing screen images. Many of us now take more time to read, whether on screen or the old fashioned way, with book or newspaper in hand.

Life has become less sloppy. It has become evident in 2020 that we take our health less for granted; we wash our hands, or do not miss our meds, or focus on exercise (in or out of a gym). In protecting ourselves against COVID-19 we came to protect ourselves against other health harms, too.

Life has become less anonymous. It has become evident in 2020 that in residential American neighborhoods, people actually live in these houses that seemed empty morning, noon and night; people can now be seen walking the streets in much greater numbers than before.

Life has become less detached from nature. It has become evident in 2020 that we need not sit on the beach or climb a mountain to appreciate a blooming tree or a neighbor’s garden as we perambulate about our neighborhoods.

Life has brought less “warehousing.” It has become evident in 2020 that while nursing homes are an essential godsend for many frail elderly, fear of COVIDhas also shown that nursing homes are an unnecessary, unhealthy default for others who can be — and in greater numbers now are — cared for at home.

Life has brought less driving. For some, driving is nerve racking and for others it is a delight. Either way, it has become evident in 2020 that its reduction is also a reduction in pollution and, more broadly, a spur to consciousness of pollution and of our individual contributions to it.

Life has become less temporal. It has become evident in 2020, as death has surrounded us all, that there is more to our horizon than our worldly goals. Whether taken as an afterlife or a legacy within this world, our horizon has expanded.

Life has witnessed a certain breakdown in boundaries. At least for those who live in economically privileged spaces, the lives of others have come more clearly into view, as this pandemic is no respecter of these boundaries.

Life has become less certain. We cannot comfortably, assuredly, automatically predict what the next season will bring. Uncertainty compels greater appreciation for what we have now. As Barbara and the late Carl Belz, taking Michael Fried’s metaphor from art to life, put it, “presentness is grace.”

Copyright © 2020 by the Intermountain Jewish News

IJN Executive Editor |

Leave a Reply

Dear valued reader,

We are deeply appreciative of the support shown by you during these challenging times — through new subscriptions, continued advertisement or your positive notes and comments. Like other small businesses and media companies, the IJN continues to be impacted in unprecedented ways by effects of the coronavirus.

As a thank you, if you subscribe today or give a gift subscription*, we will send you (or your gift recipient) a copy of The Unexpected Road, Rabbi Hillel Goldberg’s collection of stories of inspirational lives encountered as a journalist, scholar and student. Simply enter the coupon code BOOK at the top of the page when you check out. (*For a gift subscription, add the recipient's name and address in the Order Notes when you check out.)