What We Learned From Last Year: “Missed opportunities for joy and delight will never be overlooked again”

A black and white image of a woman wearing a hat, glasses, and a face mask standing outside by boat docks
Jo Ann Hollis Bell during the pandemic.

Editor’s Note: We asked our alumni and correspondents to reflect on 2020, and what to look forward to in 2021. Below, Jo Ann Hollis-Bell shares her perspective.

As I look back on the year 2020 and what has been the experience of a lifetime, not only for me, but for the world, an experience I myself hope never to be repeated, I am thankful to have survived the crisis so far and that I now have the opportunity to reflect and regroup.   

I hope I will be able to do a reset, a sort of do-over, and at the same time, I face the realization that even at my age, these temporary new normal days are in fact lessons learned that I may need to never forget and periodically revisit.

These past 11 months have allowed me to quietly recall each of the previous “normal” holidays and compare them to those that have occurred during this year but have been sadly missed.  

During this recent year’s 1 PM Christmas Eve Mass, my thoughts drifted to so many of those previous Christmas Eve services. Those memories later caused me to reflect on all of the other missed holiday gatherings during 2020 such as Easter, birthdays, and celebrations. And because I live alone, COVID compounded the memory void. I was visited by those memories of years past, full of good food and beverages, lots of noise and laughter, blended family and friends, lots of everything good and warm; but mostly, lots of love.

This new normal has taught me that during my present time of stress and sadness, that none of this really matters. The stuff from 2020 is insignificant and unworthy of any thought except to remind me to not take the present for granted. Missed opportunities for joy and delight will never be overlooked again.

Moving forward, I will refuse to hold grudges or generate anger. If I have a problem with anyone, I am moving on and I hope they will do likewise. I want to smile more and laugh from my inside out. If I have to wear a mask a little longer, I hope my eyes will generate and express happiness, not sadness. I will try to be more patient, listen with my heart, and not be sidelined for the sake of keeping peace or out of fear of being judged.

As I head to new beginnings, I am looking for the chance of a new start in 2021, one which symbolizes a powerful incentive to embrace and create a new path towards peace and happiness. An incentive that I hope will be as contagious as the pandemic event I have experienced. We all need a new normal.

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