There Were Some Pretty Flames in that Fire

I like to be reflective. I like to think and feel — and anyone who knows me knows that I feel A LOT AND DEEPLY — so I wanted to challenge myself to really reflect on 2020, not just dismiss this entire year as shit. And you know what? I think all of us, not just myself, grew so much this year and in very notable ways. All of us went through several personal and collective crises, hurdles, celebrations, and life lessons that have all made us completely different than we were before. Yeah this year was a huge heap of garbage, but there were some gems hidden throughout that heap.

It’s easy to think of “the year” as just January-mid March — which was a lot of fun! I got to visit my boyfriend on tour in exotic cities like Indianapolis where we got peanut butter whiskey to pour into milkshakes from Five Guys (not a ton to do in downtown Indy) and Houston where he convinced me to ride a scary carnival ride and we watched children ride sheep at the Houston Rodeo (correction: we watched sheep chuck children across a dirt floor). I spent a below-freezing night dancing at a sweaty soul club. I got to go clubbing with my friends in our snow boots. I played hooky at work to go to the aquarium. I got to do a few very fun live comedy shows and meet new comedians that I really liked. All of that sounds nice enough, but it was just three months.

That entire paragraph was January through mid-March. It could feel then that 2020 was really just three months and the rest of it was a big black hole. But that’s just not true. When I think about who I was then and who I am now, I’m weirdly grateful. I have changed so much. I think we all have — if you haven’t, then you weren’t paying attention this year. The pandemic, fights for civil rights, a growing dialogue on what America can do better, an election, renewed anger (and maybe some hope) in politicians, Tiger King — all of it has changed us. We cannot go back to who we were even if we tried. All of the pain and struggle that we all felt — and the weird and even inappropriate ways we took out our frustration — has made us all stronger. We’ve changed for the better. To completely “go back to normal” would be a disgrace to everything we went through.

It was definitely hard! I had difficult conflicts with people and overwhelming struggles with isolation and trauma. The way that the world is now made it difficult to work through anything thoroughly, leaving so many things to feel fraught or undone. And yet that’s still better than being ignorant, than willfully ignoring our own problems and the problems of others. I personally feel like a more compassionate, understanding person. I know I’m not alone in feeling that way, like we have become butterflies in our quarantined cocoons.

I did a lot of growth this year and for me personally time away from my “normal life” showed me that I really needed to untangle some unhealthy behaviors and thought patterns that I developed having done comedy since I was 19. That’s no shade to anyone I’ve known throughout my adult life, I just internalized a lot of things that had negative effects on me that I couldn’t see until I had space away. Don’t get me wrong — I very much miss everything from movies to diners to indoor parties and being able to see my parents without checking to see if anyone has been in possible contact with the virus. I miss the ease of the old life, absolutely. But I can also see the ways in which a forced slowdown made us confront our humanity, to see the various injustices a lot of us may have been too busy to see before, the ways in which we were harming ourselves and others, as well as the things that are actually valuable to us.

It was a fucked up way for all of us to learn those things, but I’m glad we all did. I think we’re all better for it.

And for what it is worth, you did not HAVE to blossom and grow and become an enlightened being. In a lot of ways it was impossible to thrive. We learned that it’s hard enough to simply live day-by-day when everything falls apart and that everyone is struggling right now because of this car-crash of a year. Loss of job? 2020. Canceling important events? 2020. Fights with loved ones? 2020. Internet blown out by a lightning storm in an era where internet is a necessity? 20-fucking-20. Did your sourdough starter become your greatest nemesis? Go figure, it’s 2020 being full on 2020. It was enough to survive, but even surviving came with its lessons. We learned that we could do that. That’s actually very cool!

I have no idea what 2021 will look like. None of us do. The best we can do is take what we learned this year and step into a new year with the resolution to keep going. You don’t have to lose weight or find love or become famous or learn to make bread from scratch. Just make it your resolution to keep going from here. Just keep going!

One of the places we drove several hours to walk around in. Garden of the Gods in Southern Illinois.
Alley graffiti I spotted November 2020

So when you look back on this year, I encourage you to see the ways in which you grew. They can be so small! Hell, I learned some Italian and I really think that’s cool! I read a lot of books and finally watched The Wire (really good!). My family and I started a weekly movie club. I learned that I love tuna melts. I tie-dyed a bunch of socks. I had a lovely park picnic for my birthday which felt more moving to me than anything I could have organized when we could do whatever we wanted. I took so many walks in this beautiful city I live in, noticing alleyway graffiti and weird signs that I never noticed before. I also drove several hours to walk outside in beautiful in-state places I’ve never seen before. I got to spend so much quality time with my boyfriend who was previously away a lot and we have become so much closer, building a beautiful life together that has become a light in this darkness. I like all of these things! I’m happy about them! Yes, 2020 was a ball of fire. But there was a little bit of beauty in the flames.

An abandoned church in Humboldt Park that we explored on one of our walks

Find what you love. Find who you love. Surround yourself with love. Squash beefs, put differences and grudges aside. The world is ending! And even if it isn’t, doesn’t it just feel better to live in a way that is filled with light?

Stephanie is a writer and comedian whose work has been featured on Reductress, Slate, The Weekly Humorist, The AV Club, Mental Floss, Atlas Obscura and more.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store