It’s been a year unlike any other in recent memory: A contentious election during a global pandemic. At the local level, a water crisis to boot.

Although we’ve been forced to be physically further apart than ever — missing out on milestones, events, gatherings, or just plain seeing the people we love — we are in many ways bound together closer than ever by our experience in the way that only a shared trauma can.

There is no one on this Earth who has been left untouched by the trials and tribulations this year has brought us, and a generation will be shaped by our collective reaction. We’re as eager as anyone for 2021, even as we acknowledge that a flip of the calendar will not automatically bring us back to normalcy.

Still, it’s hard not to be more optimistic looking ahead. Administering of vaccines has begun locally, and by this time next year, we hope to be trumpeting a year that saw the end of mandatory social distancing and other measures as more and more people are inoculated.

But as difficult as 2020 has been, the recovery from it won’t be any easier, and won’t be confined to one year. We face difficult decisions at every level, and we aren’t out of the woods yet as a new, potentially more contagious strain of the virus finds its way to our shores. Experts believe the existing vaccines should work against this new variant as well, but it will be a race to inoculate before it becomes more widespread.

Even though this year has seen the deepening of divisions in our society that haven’t been deeper since perhaps the Civil War, if anything will get us through what comes next, it will be the positive things we saw this year as we all worked together to get through this pandemic and myriad other challenges.

And it’s those ways we managed to come closer to one another that we choose to focus on when turning our focus to 2021. One way or another, we’ve found out more about ourselves and our neighbors, exposing our true colors to ourselves in ways that only a crisis can. Local leaders have emerged, and for the most part, despite all the noise and division, compassion has won out.

The way we go to work, go to school, shop, and do virtually anything else is likely irrevocably changed even after the specter of COVID-19 fades to the background. And much of it is to our benefit, making many of those tasks easier and more convenient for workers, students and customers, and has accelerated rural areas like ours into more digital arenas.

Hopefully, as 2020 has been a year of pain and division, 2021 can be the start of a year of compassion and healing. We’ve seen plenty of that on an individual level, from outpourings of support for our frontline workers, to the special attention nursing home residents have received even as we can’t visit them in person, to just the general understanding that we so often show to each other in a year when we know too well each other’s pain and struggle.

There’s no better way to come to care for your neighbor than to feel their pain, and there is no one who can’t understand that feeling in some way after this year.

So next year, as we hopefully begin the process both across the globe and right here in Maryville of leaving the difficulties of 2020 behind, let us hold onto the feeling of shared experiences with those around us, and not let go of what binds us together even as the pain of the past year begins to fade away.

When finally we’ll be able to gather and be close to one another again, we look forward to finding bridges that couldn’t have been built over our deepening divisions before, and finding common ground in person with those we’ve been limited to seeing only over Zoom for so long.

And in 2021, finding that common ground can start with our global, shared experience: making it through 2020.

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