The year 2020 was a very tough year.

Are we agreed?

No one has been exempted from the impacts of this year’s events. Our country is experiencing the broadest hardship and suffering, the most environmental destruction, the most death and the most personal isolation since WWII. We have seen our great Republic teeter on the brink, and we have been reminded of the incredible fragility of civil rest. Perhaps we can also all agree that, in some ways, we have looked into the proverbial mirror and have seen the best and the worst of our collective selves.

But I have a theory that we are, in fact, living out what will become known as The Great Paradox of 2020.

A paradox is a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or theory that, when investigated or explained, may prove to be true.

At the center of my Great Paradox theory is the human spirit. On top of that we can, I believe, stack a resolute and distinct American spirit. If we can consider 2020 as a learning moment in time perhaps we can bring to our forward consciousness some important lessons that we might not have otherwise considered about ourselves, about others, and about our country and world. Paradoxically, the hardest times can often birth our greatest human advancements.

As we consider this question it is so important that we not, in any way whatsoever, trivialize the very real loss, pain, suffering and isolation of so many people near and far. But we all have a responsibility to learn from these events that have come to pass.

As the hope for 2021 dawns, the old year calls us to personal re-evaluation and to a mindfulness of the people that bring definitive meaning to our lives. We are called to use our time formed by re-shaped schedules and circumstances to consider those foundational virtues that are good, decent, beautiful, admirable, and truthful. We are called to the recollection of family and friends we may have let fade away in time and memory. We are called to take deeply to heart the plight of those who are suffering, whether we know them or not, recognizing that one of the paradoxical lessons of 2020 is that we are not as detached as we might like to think we are. In fact, in so many important ways, we are forced into the realization that we are all in the same proverbial boat, breathing the same air, and trying to ride-out the same stormy sea.

We can each decide for ourselves if 2020 has caused our hearts and minds to broaden or to become narrower. What good, if any, can possibly come from the despair, unkindness, death, and division of this past year? How about hope, kindness, justice, and more meaningful lives? Will we be capable of forming such a response from these dire circumstances? I surely would not bet against the American spirit, which has been well known to dare greatly in a defining moment.

In that sense what might these narrow straits of 2020 teach us about moving forward?

First, we may have learned that we each have a quiet power within and that from the depths of our hearts and minds can emerge the source of a better world. Second, we are not as separate as we thought, because it is now clear that we are all in this together – like it or not. Third, we are not all called upon to accomplish great achievements, but we are all surely called upon to be great in everything that we do. Fourth, we are reminded of the incredible power each of us possesses to extend our inner greatness by simply lending a hand, taking a moment, offering a kind word, or gifting a simple smile. Finally, it is time for each one of us to reflect seriously on the historical role of the gift of faith and what it means when it comes to the fragility of our lives and nation.

Upon considering these things we should be able to discover some great truths about ourselves. On the other hand, maybe we will discover some self-truths that are not so great. Either way, our thoughtful encounter with the painful events of 2020 has the potential to bring us much wisdom, individual growth, and a renewed collective national spirit. And to that, let us all say Amen.

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