I learned that we have what it takes to overcome this pandemic, that vaccinations work, even if they don’t prevent breakthrough infections, and that if we were unified in our efforts, we would be past COVID by now. 

I learned that we weren’t able to accomplish this because a sizable minority of Americans sabotaged those efforts because of ideology and fear and misinformation and shortsightedness and distrust of government and science.

I learned (firsthand) that if you get COVID in spite of the vaccinations, you’re better off than the unvaccinated who get it.

I learned that at least one-third of this country is functionally mentally ill and living in a fantasy world characterized by conspiracy thinking, known as “The Big Lie.”

That many of these Americans are fiercely anti-democratic and spoiling for a fight, willing to overturn an election through armed insurrection, and that these insurrectionists are not likely to stop with one failed attempt.

That the Republican Party is the party of treason and cowardice and ethical impairment, and that they will do anything, literally anything, to gain and maintain power, including rigging the electoral system to make it harder to vote and easier to overturn results that don’t meet their distorted sense of entitlement. And that they must be resisted through the might of our collective voting, as we did in 2020, because we are the majority and, at all costs, must not remain silent.

That democracy is far more vulnerable and endangered — and precious — than I ever imagined.

That the national media, to an extremely disappointing degree, is not helping in the effort to save democracy but instead gives aid and comfort to those whose main goal is undermining democratic government. And that their conventional thinking and lazy journalism makes them, consciously or unconsciously, complicit in that effort.

I learned that we are running out of time and those of us who are still grounded in something resembling reality need to be motivated and mobilized enough to save the Earth from those who have, for so long, profited from its destruction. 

I learned that there is tremendous resistance to the efforts to move this country toward racial equity and that another backlash is building, aimed at preserving white superiority and dominance, and that backlash will make its presence felt in the mid-term elections this November.

I learned that the 6-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court is the most politically partisan and least independent ever and, therefore, is the most dangerous court in our history. 

Meanwhile …

I also learned that people in general can be counted on and depended on, and that friendship can deepen and endure.

That there is courage and fairness in ordinary human beings when it counts.

That most people rise to occasions and can still discern what is real and true from what is false and misleading.

That love is genuine and tangible and practical and active and is visible all around us.

That beauty can still be found in the quiet everyday and also resides within us. That art enriches and nourishes and sustains the soul and touches the heart.

That the world is better in spite of all the efforts to make it worse because the desire to move forward is stronger and truer to who we really are.

That people do come to their senses and pull their heads out of wherever they’re buried, and they can recognize the error of their ways, even those who are addicted to self- and world-destruction.

That most of us are still capable of reason and rationality and empathy and wisdom and that our better angels have in the past always won out over the underside of humanity.

That forgiveness is possible, even for those who have done so much harm to this country in the name of greed and power lust and twisted logic and ignorance and inside-out patriotism.

Also …

This year I learned, anew or more deeply, how much my family and friends matter to me, and that some relationships need to be rebooted and refreshed.

That family may fragment, but also reassembles. That “we” are an unfinished jigsaw puzzle.

That being human is a lifelong evolution and worth the journey, despite its many struggles.

That our lives are books meant to be read aloud, filled with surprising richness and worth the telling, and can be unlocked by a few simple questions from those curious enough to listen.

That actions are stronger than words, but words married to action have greater power still.

I learned that helping is the best way to be productive, that our hope lies in “we,” motivated and mutually reinforced, that many hands make not just light work but better work. And that helping irrigates the roots of friendship.

That good company makes me a more effective person than I am on my own.

That trust is the byproduct of proving ourselves worthy of one another. 

I learned from a trusted teacher over a lifetime to “keep growing,” right to the very end.

I learned from a trusted friend to adjust accordingly, whatever the current set of circumstances.

I learned the power of “anyway” and “any way,” to live life anyway, despite its setbacks, and to love any way possible.

I learned not to wait, but also not to rush whether it’s losing weight or writing. 

I learned that I have much to learn from 8-year-olds, and re-learned the power of decorating a Christmas tree.

I learned that time heals, relationships ripen, and how lucky I am to have had so many good people enter my life. 

And that they stayed as long as they could.

And that some will stay till death parts us, if then.

I learned again, as I do every year, that no matter how many are trying to ruin everything, the list of restorative human beings is always longer.

And once again I learned the hard way, as I do every year, 

That life is worth the living.

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