2020 has been quite a year. And lots of us can’t wait to bid it good riddance. We’re still working our way through a deadly pandemic—one that has torn like a hurricane through the lives of ordinary Americans, especially those with already-weak immune systems.
And it happened without much warning. On Thursday night, March 12, I taught my last face-to-face class of the semester at FGCU, and I haven’t taught in person since. That last class was Intermediate Macroeconomics, a course in which we study the national economy in detail. Though the economic consequences of the coronavirus were not yet apparent to my students, that night I asked them, “So how are you enjoying the next recession?” I may have been too clever for my own good that night, but I wasn’t mistaken about where we were headed.
The financial devastation we’re picking through— with no assurance we are yet in the clear—includes the subsequent recession caused largely by our honest efforts to slow the spread of the virus. And though it was mercifully short-lived, we witnessed a national unemployment rate higher than anything since the Great Depression. We don’t yet know whether, when or how we will fully recover. For many of us, our working lives will fundamentally change, whether for good or ill, short term or long term.
If COVID-19 and the ensuing recession weren’t enough, we’ve taken other beatings. And in some cases, those beatings are quite literal. We’ve all by now read about dramatic increases in domestic violence and calls to mental health hotlines during our efforts to stay at home and stop the spread. Alcohol sales at retail outlets soared. It seems that, in our efforts to save our bodies from one threat, some of us may have brought other harms to our bodies and our minds as we did the “right thing” and stayed home.
And if you throw in an especially rancorous presidential election season, a legion of out-of-control fires burning throughout the American West, actual hurricanes and the social unrest occasioned by a series of unjust acts and their ensuing protests, violence and rioting—and outraged people on every side of every issue—well, perhaps we don’t have much left to be thankful for after all.
But that’s not how I see it. And, honestly, I must see it otherwise. Surely, just like poor George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life who wished he’d never been born, you and I have remaining blessings to be thankful for and celebrate. I don’t think I could go on if I couldn’t find some blessings in the midst of this mess.
First, I’m thankful for all of the Southwest Floridians who have kept working throughout this period to keep our lights on, our internet up, our water running and our bellies full; assuming lots of COVID-19 risk so you and I don’t have to. On March 19, in a futile attempt to buy toilet paper at Sam’s in Fort Myers, I stopped a random worker to tell her, “Thanks for keeping the world running right now. I’m glad you’re here.”
Her unexpected reply, “I’m glad you’re here, too.” I’m thankful for the ingenuity of Southwest Floridians, whether it be a Punta Gorda rum distillery that switched to making hand sanitizer or a pop-up grocery store in Bonita Springs. I’m thankful for a neighbor who, realizing he had bought way too much toilet paper, posted this on the Nextdoor app: “Will trade toilet paper for much-needed hand sanitizer.”
And I am thankful that local regulatory authorities got creative and worked hard to reduce regulations during challenging times, such as allowing downtown Fort Myers eateries to expand their outdoor seating. It’s amazing how quickly rules intended to keep us safe can be retooled in a time of crisis.
I cannot forecast what 2021 will bring. But I am thankful that I will be able to lift a glass of carry-out champagne to ring in the new year!