I didn’t organise my first Sydney Thanksgiving this year just for the turkey27th December 2020
But, for all of its trauma, tension and troubles, there were nevertheless commendable characteristics to our “annus horribilis”. When we really look – not online – but at our IRL (inner real lives).
Hear me out.
First, there’s what many have talked about: rediscovering simpler domestic pleasures such as our collective sourdough-baking and puzzle-making moments, spending more time with family, or recovering time that’s usually spent in a train, bus or car.
They may seem trivial products of our privilege, but it’s also code for bigger things: immediacy and intimacy. Being present, being connected, and being part of a whole made it on to the playlist of 2020 – gentler aspects that the usual deluge of digital detritus and the constant competitiveness of contemporary life seek to cancel.
When we talk about the “new normal”, maybe we should also be talking about the “old abnormal” of intense pace matched with inferior purpose. Maybe the 2020 COVID pause was some kind of cosmic question: do we really want to be living like this? Maybe, the latest outbreak’s a further reminder that to learn patience takes patience.
Shakespeare wrote of “the blessedness of being little”. Perhaps, in 2020, some of us came to accept that little is grand. That a humble approach to our lives and our world is a great vaccine to Insta-vane and Face-bore and all the other pernicious imposts of a modern society that’s better at posing and rushing than pausing and reflecting.
If expectations are premeditated resentments, as my Buddhist monk says, 2020 taught us to drop our expectations, face our situation rather than fight it or fly away from it, and be grateful for how things are rather than how we would want them to be.
That was part of what Suzanne and I were thinking as we drove, 10 hours round trip, to Tintinhull, near Tamworth, to get our 12-kilogram Thanksgiving gobbler directly from a farm that’s been raising turkeys for 70 years. Because we could. It was a way to travel again. Rather than fly to some flashy international capital carefully researched for months on the internet, our highlights were a country pub meal, happy snaps by the Golden Guitar, and watching bright-green John Deeres bring in a record hay crop.
Our “turkey trot” was also a way to get our own food from where it comes from – rather than a designer butcher – and to talk to each other. Because we could.
If there was one best blessing about 2020, it was that many of us learned to listen again. With the volume of our lives turned down during iso, we could really listen – even as we were muted on Zoom – about how loved ones were doing, about what we needed to do to get through our challenges, and about how to make social distancing work for us as much as possible.
Every day, I look at COVID-19 stats coming out of the country of my youth. I’m careful that this ritual doesn’t desensitise me from their ascending scale and seriousness. I remind myself that these are real people – dying – in a USA that every kid like me in a public school in New York City was taught was somehow bigger and better, both in its compassion and its strength. I wonder if the failure to contain the virus is also a failure of listening on the part of American leaders: to experts, to the poor and the coloured, to some Higher Power. When our latest spike here is under a hundred cases, I feel almost guilty for own comparative success and safety.
Here, our remarkably responsive health system showed itself to be the greatest public investment we’ve ever made. Our strong social safety net not only kept the economy from hitting the deck, but there’s evidence it most likely saved thousands of lives. Our politicians of both stripes surprised us with their competency and their hard work. As witnessed by the polite queues for tests last week, the public continues to act with care, caution and community-mindedness.
The Lucky Country didn’t rely on any luck to manage COVID-19; we fared well based on leadership, knowledge, a great public service, organisational capability, resources, and cooperation. For that, especially when we look at more waves in more places formerly considered to be the height of civilisation, we need to really say thanks.
All up: a good year of humility, gratitude and resilience, even with a small bump in road now. This is what Colin Quast, a third-generation farmer with calloused hands the size of welcome mats, said to me when we picked up our Thanksgiving turkey: “Things came good.”
Peter Shmigel is a writer and chief executive officer of the Australian Council of Recycling.