Be ready for the unexpected call and respond. That's a final lesson of 2020 for me.

A year ago this week, I received the phone call that our son, Hunter, had been in a skiing collision on his first run of the day. It changed the course of our son’s future and our family. While this weekly personal column varies in content, you’ve been privy to more of my family’s personal journey over the past year. I’ve wanted to get back into some more hard-hitting, ag-topic columns. I struggled to consistently put those together and often drifted back to sharing our personal stories.

Longtime readers have sent me handwritten notes, emails and phone calls of encouragement. I’m surrounded by a strong team in my professional role at Agweek and Forum Communications. My network of family and friends made this year full of possibilities and potential despite working through difficulties. Thank you.

Katie Pinke, Agweek Publisher
Katie Pinke, Agweek Publisher

Another call recently came to me, in the form of a message with a phone number to call from a school administrator in need of a speaker at his rural school after the speaker they lined up needed to cancel on short notice. I don’t always check or read social media messages. But I found this message and shared it with Hunter. He made the needed phone call.

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By the next morning, Hunter and I were both in Petersburg, N.D., at Dakota Prairie Public School. Hunter, the back-up speaker on short notice, spoke three times to different groups of students on Dec. 21. I only stayed for the first session but it caused me reflection and pause.

Would Hunter have been given this opportunity to speak to rural students if it weren’t for the experiences and changes in his life over the past year? Most likely, no. The worst of phone calls can lead to greater wisdom, strength and opportunity, I was reminded.

Whether it’s in business, family, health, church, community, volunteering or paid roles, 2020 brought up upheaval to all of our lives. While I hear and see people hoping for some sense of normalcy in the new year, I believe we all need to accept we’re different now, all of us. We won’t return to normal. All of our definitions of "normal," along with the look and feel of normal changed this past year.

A change in what normal is should not limit your opportunity to answer a new call. Each of us will have the opportunity to give back and create positive change around us in the new year. Avoid being gripped by negativity and move ahead with the positives from 2020. Carry them with you in 2021.

Are you closer to your extended family despite seeing them in-person even less than a “normal” year? Answer the call to facilitate even stronger relationships in 2021. Create a family calendar of photos, share everyone’s birthdays. Call or write your siblings, nieces, nephews, cousins on their birthdays.

The neighbor you’ve only seen with a passing wave in 2020 or the new neighbor who bought the place down the road you haven’t met yet? Introduce yourself. Invite the neighbor over for coffee. Or if it’s not safe yet with COVID precautions yet to gather, send a handwritten note this month, sharing your hopes for a summer barbecue among neighbors.

Did your church cancel their Christmas program or Sunday school recently? Volunteer to be a teacher in the new year when the church opens up again. Or if you’ve never attended recently, try just showing up when haven’t been in a long time.

Your call might not come in the physical form of a phone call or message. It might be just a nudge. Respond and be a positive difference-maker to those around you.

The difficult calls will not stop in the new year. We’ll still have hard business decisions, personal loss, struggle, concern and upheaval. 2020 taught me to respond to calls with a more open mind, prepare for the unexpected, trust good people surrounding you to help and no matter how unnerving it feels not knowing the path ahead, keep going.

Hard times, feelings of emptiness and difficulty can lead to greater opportunity. Sitting in a rural high school gym watching my son roll around — energy in his voice, passion for the people in the stands, connecting to them with stories of shared small school experiences and observing they’re more alike than different — gave me a purpose I hadn’t known could be possible from different calls, spanning the course of a year.

Pinke is the publisher and general manager of Agweek. She can be reached at kpinke@agweek.com, or connect with her on Twitter @katpinke. To read more of her Pinke Post columns, click here.