2020 has certainly been a stressful year in all our lives, and the last few months particularly so. Dealing with the COVID-19 crisis, along with a hotly conducted and somewhat uncivilized presidential election, has added to the strain. Even the weather has been disruptive: fires in California, hurricanes in Louisiana, a drought here in Connecticut–what else can happen? All of us are looking forward, I imagine, to a life that is less unsettling and more like the life we used to know.
I have observed, in both my professional and my personal lives, that change is generally regarded as positive when we ourselves initiate and control it. Change is often regarded as negative and difficult when it is laid on by circumstances in someone else’s control. This has certainly been a year of change, perhaps both kinds of change but mostly the latter, and many of us feel bewildered and distressed as we try to cope.
Those of us who can fall back on religious faith for stability and reassurance are lucky indeed, but maybe lessons from history can help the rest of us. There have been pandemics before, without the technological and medical expertise we enjoy in 2020, and society has survived and learned from them. There have been difficult political situations in our country before, and we have survived and learned from them.
Isolation compounds almost any challenge. We have not only been isolated from family and friends and colleagues since last March; we are about to be even more separated from one another this winter, if the experts are right about the new surge in COVID-19 cases. Zoom and Facetime and Skype are helpful, of course, and thank goodness we have those technologies just when we need them so desperately. But face to face (even masked face to masked face) offers of comfort, support, and practical help speak volumes to those who are feeling “low,” and who isn’t?
This is a time to build back the civility we once took for granted: old-fashioned manners, gestures of kindness, offers of help. We need one another now more than ever. We can’t change the whole world, but we can make sure the aura of our town is one of cooperation and good nature. I often walk in Bruce Park, and I am so reassured when I’m there that almost everyone I see has a friendly smile and a wave–small thing, but enough to project warmth and friendliness. As Dickens once wrote, “Trifles make the sum of life.” His words were never truer than they are now. Here’s to a new civility!