Let's not lose sight of what got us here

Columnist Emily Carson reminds us to slow down before we move on from 2020.

Holy Everything — Emily Carson column sig

A new year. It’s really here. For many, 2021 couldn’t get here fast enough. Farewell to what felt like the worst and longest year in recent memory. Goodbye, 2020. Hello, year that is not 2020!

But wait. Slow down. Are we perhaps setting ourselves up for disappointment if we assume that 2021 will be better just because it’s different? It’s true; 2021 will not be the same as 2020. But it will still be weird, and we would benefit from the shared recognition that all is not yet as it should and could be. As we step into the new year, we will need to pack with us the awarenesses we’ve gained, as well as the energy to persist.

Don’t get me wrong. I love a new year as much as the next. An updated planner. Refreshed resolutions. A chance to clean out the filing cabinet and use the shredder.

Yet alongside all the expected routines that accompany the beginning of a fresh trek around the sun, I’ve noticed an influx of concerning memes, comics and conversations about kicking 2020 to the curb to make way for a better year. While it may feel natural to distance ourselves from the difficulties of the past, it is useful to remember that what was hard in 2020 didn’t appear out of thin air.

COVID-19 actually started in 2019. Racial injustice, political instability, and economic uncertainty have all been around for a long time. They are problems with deep roots that require extended collective attention. The troubles of 2020 weren’t unique to 2020; what was new was that more of us noticed.


Toward the end of last month, something special happened in the sky. Jupiter and Saturn appeared to our earthly eyes very close. It happens every 400 years or so, and it’s referred to by astronomers as the “great conjunction.” In mid-December, the orbits of Jupiter and Saturn aligned in a striking and bright way; the whole sky received special attention. Their coming together created new awareness and interest.

Something truly noteworthy about 2020 was the coinciding of challenges in a way that caused so many people to notice. We looked around at each other and our planet in new ways. We perceived the beautiful and the terrible in ways we hadn’t before. It was our own great conjunction, and it was the gift and the burden of 2020. It was a year in which a confluence of significant woes impacted not just a small segment of the population, but an entire planet.

Hopefully there will be a reprieve from having to face so many layers of suffering at once in the coming year. The continued distribution of the coronavirus vaccine will alleviate the profound disruption and difficulty caused by COVID-19.

In the months ahead, as more space is created between our individual lives and the pandemic, our attentions and patterns of behavior will shift. Our conversations will change. The things we notice and care about may adjust, too. Just as the space between Jupiter and Saturn expand, so, too, will the space between our national challenges.

May that breathing space serve as a healing balm to our brains and our bodies; 2020 was hard, and we need time to mend. Regroup and re-center. Breathe deeply. Then keep going. May 2021 be a year in which we stay engaged in collectively building the world in which we desire to live.

A great conjunction is rare. Let us not waste the perspective we’ve been granted.

"Holy Everything" is a weekly column by Emily Carson. She is a Lutheran pastor. Visit her website .

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