A Sabbath Message: Reflections on a New Year

“You live life looking forward. You understand life looking back.” – Soren Kierkegaard (1813–1855)

“Hindsight is 2020.” Boy…isn’t that the truth! As we move forward into the first Sabbath of 2021, that old saying seems to be a recurring refrain in my mind. Although we cannot be exactly sure of the origin of this old adage – it is believed to have been first used in print in this country in 1949 – the truth of it is undeniable. And, of course, in our current situation, the irony of it is not lost on any of us: “2020” is meant to refer to “20/20,” the perfect vision we attain at the end of a journey or event, so that in “hindsight,” we have a clearer more “perfect” understanding of how things could have been done better. While in reality there may not be true “perfect” vision, the pandemic this year and its associated challenges have provided us with many valuable lessons learned – and perhaps, reminded us of many things we already knew. The great Danish existentialist, Soren Kierkegaard, quoted above, tells us that looking back, so that we can move forward with full vision are both valuable, as we make sense of this most unusual year.

Looking back, it seems fitting to ask: What were the biggest “takeaways” from the year 2020? Well, for one thing, we know we have a whole new lexicon at the very least – new words we never thought would become part of our daily language! We connect on “Zoom,” where we remind each other that we “are muted” or we meet for a “socially distanced” lunch outside at the regulation “6 feet apart.” We “sanitize” constantly and we endeavor to offer “contactless” solutions to mail or gifts, and when we hear about a spread of illness, we ask about “contact tracing.” I could go on – these are but a few examples of how our language will be forever changed. (And…who ever thought that a face mask could become a main fashion accessory?!)

But in addition to our new vocabulary, what are the meaningful lessons we have learned about ourselves, our loved ones and our world this year? Perhaps I cannot speak for you, but for myself, I will suggest one or two which may resonate with you as well. The first has to do with the importance of connection with one another. Although we have not been able to be together through the long months of this pandemic, the ability to stay connected to each other in whatever means we have been able to find has been the tonic that has brought us through this. And we have shown ourselves to be very creative at it! A second lesson we have been reminded of is the importance of our mental health and wellness. A challenge such as this tests our ability to stay grounded and positive under very uncertain and frightening conditions. Learning what we need to feel safe and keep ourselves feeling both physically and mentally healthy and well – and also being aware of what we and our loved ones need when we are not well – has been key during this crisis. Many of us (myself included) learned a great deal about ourselves – what we need to feel better, how to get what we needed and how to ask for it.

I have never been much for New Year’s Resolutions – but I am a fan of New Year’s goals. There is something inherently depressing about resolutions, almost as if you are being set up to fail. But I like goals – the way I see it, you cannot fail at them if you haven’t achieved them yet! They are always there to strive for, but not something to feel badly about, just a reminder of what is out there to reach for. There were certain personal goals I achieved during the pandemic – my first vegetable garden (see photo above!), a (slight) improvement in my golf game, and some inroads in my harp-playing. But I plan to work on these further in 2021, along with others. Interpersonally, I have goals, too. I want to continue to make kindness a central priority with my loved ones, co-workers, and strangers. There just doesn’t seem to be enough of it. And I want to remember to never take my relationships for granted – they are far too precious.

As we look forward to what comes next, what are the things we might take with us on this journey moving into the New Year? When we pack for a trip (I can dream, can’t I??), we take the things we really need, and leave those things behind which are unnecessary. Moving into 2021, we are taking a trip forward into the future, which we hope will be bright, even though we know there may be some bumps on the road ahead, until we find a smooth course. This has not been an easy year, but I want to take what I have learned with me – about the importance of kindness, gratitude for my relationships, a wonderful community, and the power we all have to connect with each other and create hope. I wish the same for you – that you can pack your bags with your strength and hope as well, as we move forward together into this bright year.

Wishing you all a peaceful Sabbath – one full of hope and promise for the New Year ahead,

Ruth Steinberg, LCSW, MAJCS
Director, Jewish Family Service


Image caption: Looking back on 2020: My first vegetable garden was a source of pride – and great salads too!