We will have to work hard to keep 2020 with us, but we absolutely must. Even though I’ve railed against it myself numerous times, I think being mad at 2020 is partly our attempt to compartmentalize the bad so we can return to some pristine good. And that’s just not how I have come to understand life.
There will be lots of tears when we finally put our arms around family and friends, sing together and hold hands. When we can finally tell people how sorry we are for their losses, not just with broken video monologues but with all our hearts, all our souls, all of our might, all of our bodies.
These moments will be flooded with the gratitude stored up during the lean year of 2020.
We cannot forget watching other societies in other countries enacting flowing, graceful behavioral changes in moral murmuration for love of their neighbors. The unified graph of cases in some countries and the disparate graphs in ours are not a compliment to the spirit of individual liberty. This was the greatest opportunity since 9/11 or World War II to come together and we didn’t. America will only truly be exceptional when we understand all the ways we are not. This autopsy of our country in 2020 is necessary civics reading.
2020 gave the world an opportunity to think beyond the self, beyond the clan, beyond the tribe. The farmer who sent N95 masks to Governor Cuomo comes to mind. He used them in grain storage and told the Governor to give them to people who needed them now. We must never forget the images of those who showed us who we can be.
The first meal with a house full of loved ones will be filled with a surprise we never thought we could muster. How good and pleasant it is for brothers and sisters to sit together. But, before we begin the meal we must not only remember who we couldn’t see in 2020, we must remember seeing people we never saw before. The cars lined up for the drive-through food pantry were not the cars we expected. More people in America live on the edge than we knew. And now we know because of 2020.
We have spent thousands of years turning our world into a familiar and habitable place. We have carefully curated our surroundings to convince us we are the main characters on this planet. 2020 reminded us that we are strangers in a strange land. We are creatures like any other. Arteries cleared of cars, ventilators clearing lungs. We will need, in our most comfortable moments, to remember that in 2020 we learned the humility of a global sabbath, of being still.
When families go through loss before a wedding or a bar mitzvah they will sometimes say, “We don’t want to mention that. We want it to be happy.” I will then suggest they think of the sanctuary like the human heart. It’s a place that contains everything all at once. Loss mixes with love mixes with joy mixes with tears. It’s a place where we don’t think of things as messy and chaotic, but as one feeling teaching another to feel itself more deeply.
According to the Talmud, Mar bar Rabina was throwing a wedding for his son. He noticed that the rabbis, the role models for the community, had lost themselves in celebration. He took an expensive glass and shattered it, shocking them into sobriety. We still bring that moment of brokenness into the most joyful of places today.
Tonight a 12,000 pound ball of Waterford crystal will drop in Times Square as we cross the line between years. It drops, but it never breaks. We must understand the difference between fantasy and dreams. A fantasy is imagining a world where suffering won’t reach you. A dream is imagining a world where those who, at the moment, are experiencing joy and love, share with those who, at the moment, are experiencing suffering.
If we carry 2020 with us we might stop trying to be “all good” and start trying to be more human.
Aaron Brusso is a rabbi at Bet Torah in Mt Kisco. He is an officer of the Rabbinical Assembly, the international professional organization of Conservative rabbis, a Shalom Hartman Institute Senior Fellow and recently received the Human Rights Award from T’ruah for his work on immigration.