I recently came across a birthday card I received in January 2020. “It’s a whole new decade – Anything can happen!” it said.
Huh. No kidding.
If you had told me as I read that card for the first time, that ANYTHING would mean I’d feel naked without a mask on, or that I’d go to work every day, but rarely leave my home, or that I’d watch my daughter graduate high school by video, I wouldn’t have believed you
If you had told me in January that people around the entire globe would cheer together, would cry together, and would mourn millions of lives lost together, I’m not sure I could even have imagined it.
I re-read that card and I laughed at the irony. And then I cried.
I’m not going to spend too much time on 2020. Our children will take college-level courses about 2020. However, I am going to take away these 3 things (and leave behind the rest):
- Be Prepared – When Christine and I founded ePACT 9 years ago, it was in the aftermath of a friend’s harrowing experience during the 2011 Japan earthquake, tsunami and nuclear reactor meltdown. We knew then that anything CAN happen. But it’s easy to forget. The time between the biggest disasters in our lives is, fortunately, quite long. It’s easy to get complacent and forget that it’s the little steps we take every day that build our resilience. (Wear that mask)
- Be a Community – I often hear people say ‘when disaster comes I”m ready to protect my family!’ That’s great, but what gets us all through the big things is not what we do for ourselves, but what we do for each other. (Thank that front line worker, bring an elderly neighbour dinner)
- Be Tenacious – For the most part, for most of us in North America, we’ve not experienced the types of long, harrowing disasters that required the generations before us to dig deep and keep going, day after day, week after week. This pandemic asks of many of us a level of tenacity we’ve not had to find before. It will make us stronger, it will get us through. (Don’t give up!)
2021, Here we come!
I’d like to think that when the clock strikes twelve on January 1st, this hell will be over. But I’m a realist. A hopeful realist. 2021 will be better – at the very least, we’ll be more prepared, we’ll have each other, and we’ll be 2020 strong (tired, but also strong).
Here’s what I’m taking into 2021.
- Action – We will need to rally again. It feels hard. We are all tired, but the global effort it will take to get us through the second wave, get us all immunized and get us out the other side of this pandemic is going to require every one of us taking action. Some of that action is going to be the same little steps – the everyday sacrifices we’ve already made so many times – the action that feels like a lot of inaction. Some of it is going to be the big stuff – stepping up to help re-invigorate and re-build our small businesses, our community programs, our arts programs and even our personal connections.
- Leadership – As leaders, whether in our communities, businesses, households or personal networks, we will need to keep stepping up, and helping those we lead to stay resilient. We will need to help each other envision the future on the other side of this pandemic, and then we are going to need to turn off Netflix, toss out the sourdough starter, and go out and build that future.
- Community – Remember the clanging pots and cheers around the world that we saw for so many months early in the pandemic? The Italians singing on their balconies, the neighbourhoods who met each week to eat dinner on their driveways or participate in a sing along? We need more of that. We need to remember that when we are through the worst of this, and people start opening their doors, and their lives, many will be stepping out with the deep scars of personal loss, or with new or increased vulnerabilities. We need to make sure people don’t fall through the cracks. We need to carry the best of our 2020 selves into 2021 and beyond.
- Innovation – One silver lining of the year from hell – it proved how fast we can innovate, how rapidly we can change, when the things that are closest to our hearts are in jeopardy. 2021 will see the release of several COVID-19 vaccines, developed on a timeline never seen before. Continued innovation in all areas will get us back to the things we love sooner and deliver us new passions and new opportunities we couldn’t have seen coming.
Let’s remember the power of cooperation, ingenuity, and adaptation, and bring it not only into 2021 but into the decade ahead. Let’s remember that as we were forced to give up the places, things and processes we are accustomed to, we found and held on to the things that really matter – humanity, love and connection. Because remembering all that just might help us to build a better, more just, more sustainable future.
My Birthday card was right, ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN. In 2021 and beyond, let’s make that anything really count.
Kirsten Koppang Telford is Co-Founder & CEO of ePACT Network an online health and safety network that helps community organizations, municipalities and businesses across North America prepare for, and respond to, emergencies ranging from scraped knees and bee stings to forest fires and the COVID-19 pandemic.