No matter how you slice it, 2020 will go down as a year replete with news that shocked the world and events which few could have predicted. The operative word describing the past year remains, without question, “unprecedented.”
And while some Americans, led by a president prone to denying the advice of experts in order to make room for his own revisionist history, have embraced the more insular, nationalist perspective that guided Donald Trump in his first bid for the presidency, “Make America Great Again,” we have seen the absurdity of such a policy.
While it may have once been feasible to close our borders, to deny immigrants entry to our country and to live as if we were the only people on Earth, those days are long gone. We now live in a global village, interconnected in almost every aspect of life. But we’ve known this for some time, despite the last-ditch efforts of those who long for a return to “the good old days – one final gasp of air and the indulgences of a society founded on the premise of “white privilege.”
We can learn a lot about which decisions may be beneficial to the world’s millions of inhabitants and which are best if left alone, if we only take the time to look back at history. Of course, that requires the willingness to accept history without revising it to suit and support our own desires, prejudices or fears.
As an example, the devastation that America and the world have experienced due to COVID-19, may well have been avoided – or at least minimalized – if those in charge had simply considered what happened in 1918 when an influenza virus first emerged that would kill more people than either the Black Plague or HIV/AIDS.
But with denial or ignorance of the past we would witness the inevitable – an explosion of infections and deaths in numbers that could have been avoided both in the U.S. and in many other countries. Indeed, history can be instrumental in teaching us how to avoid past failures while preparing for a fairly-predictable future.
As for the surge of protests related to the Black Lives Matter movement, America has remained insistent in its refusal to come to terms with its own racist and sexist ideologies since the founding of this nation in 1776. James Baldwin’s prediction of “The Fire Next Time” has gained greater credence given the events that have transpired before and since the murder of innocent Black men and women like George Floyd or Breonna Taylor earlier this year.
I have made the best of a year in which I have been unable to see my children or grandsons, have stayed mostly home alone with only my two “best friends” – my dogs – to keep me company and relatively sane. I have had to refrain from enjoying my favorite forms of entertainment: attending the theater, shopping, taking trips and relishing in the beauties of nature.
But as history shows us, this, too, shall pass.
Even with the results of the recent presidential election whose outcome provides for new “firsts” with the choice of a woman of color as the nation’s first vice president, we see the significance of both embracing and learning from history. Further, we realize how those in power can use their influence to refute or revise history, if given the opportunity.
Years ago, when I first began to study theology at Emory University, I learned a song that informed me that while I may not know the future, I can be confident in whose “hands” the future is held. That song continues to guide me and give me hope, no matter how dark the present may seem to appear.
We stand on the precipice of a new year and soon, will usher in a new president to guide our misguided nation. We stand at the intersection of life and death with COVID-19 still maintaining its hold over our lives and the future. But we’re still here. The sun has not failed to come out each tomorrow.
And hope continues to spring eternal.
We made it! That’s reason enough to celebrate!