Dear Alison from 2019,
I hope this message finds you well.
I’m writing to you from the future — from a time when, as you will soon understand, the greeting “I hope this message finds you well” will make you want to scream. You will hate it slightly more than the phrase “living in unprecedented times” and almost as much as “we’re all in this together.”
Listen. I know 2019 had some rough patches — like that awful head cold you had back in May — and I know you have high expectations for the year to come. It will be a new beginning; the start of a new decade, and all that. So I’m writing to give you a little preview of, and some sage advice on, living through the next 365 days.
Actually, damn it, I mean 366. Apologies in advance.
Your year will start out with a bang. At 8:03 in the morning on a beautiful and sunny January first, while peeking down to stir your first Dunkin’ Donuts coffee of the decade, you’ll suddenly find yourself — BAM— crumpled into the rear bumper of a Honda Civic that stopped short at the yellow light in front of you. According to police records, your “failure to follow traffic signal” citation is punishable to the tune of a few hundred dollars.
Of course, you’ll be thankful that nobody got hurt in the accident, and especially thankful for no-fault insurance (until your husband gets smashed by a negligent driver three weeks later, but that’s a story for another day). You’ll spend the rest of the day fighting back tears and feeling like an idiot while simultaneously promising yourself that the year can only get better from here.
Okay. So, 2019 self, I’m going to be totally blunt with you. The year won’t get better from here. It will get worse — much, much worse. Worse than a minor car accident that left a dent in your bumper and dark-roast all over your windshield. So, hear me out: pick yourself up, move on, and enjoy the hell out of the next two months.
I won’t get into detail about the cascade of disaster that follows; trust me, there’s no way you’d believe the magnitude of it anyway. Also, you’d probably pack up your valuables and move to the middle of nowhere, off the grid, which would have been a great way to avoid the worst of it until about two weeks ago.
But I will tell you this. Out of the wreckage that is 2020, you’re going to learn more than you’ve ever learned before. More than you learned in grade school, or college, or grad school. And yes — even more than that time you traveled to Chile by yourself and got food poisoning in the middle of the Andes.
So pay close attention.
In 2020, you’ll learn that family, if you’re lucky enough to have it, is invaluable. You’ll learn to call or text your aging parents every day. Often it’s just to ask if they still have their sense of taste and smell, but still. It’ll be nice to talk to them, to catch up, to share memories of your childhood and of the 2000 presidential election.
You’ll learn that your dad, who spent his entire career in healthcare, and your sister-in-law, an emergency room nurse, are heroes who have been putting their lives at risk every single day since the beginning of time. You’ll learn that the people who work at gas stations and grocery stores are heroes, too, because even when the world comes to a halt, we can’t survive without them.
You’ll hear shattering words like communism and fascism casually thrown around in reference to wearing a piece of cloth over your mouth (I know it sounds crazy, but trust me on this one). You’ll learn that sometimes the simplest gestures can communicate the strongest sense of love and respect. You’ll find that your health and love of the outdoors is a blessing. You will completely stop caring about fitting into a smaller pair of pants, and that will be a true mindset shift — not just a consequence of your wardrobe consisting entirely of sweats.
You’ll come to the brutal conclusion that identifying as a lifelong liberal Democrat doesn’t mean that you know everything — or actually anything — about societal issues like racism and classism. You’ll learn why a statement like Black Lives Matter is so important and powerful, and you’ll learn this through a sudden and dramatic revelation that your entire life was enveloped in privilege. Yes, you. The kid who drove a rusty 12-year-old station wagon and worked two jobs to get through college. You’ll learn that privilege doesn’t just mean keeping up with the Kardashians, and that hard work and talent have little to do with your relative comfort and success.
You’ll get a civics lesson a hundred times more impactful than the one you got from AP Government class and from seeing Hamilton in the nosebleed seats in Chicago. You’ll learn more about the electoral college than you ever wanted to know — although you won’t quite understand why it still exists. You’ll be shocked to find out that democracy is fragile, not fail-safe, and that it relies on a series of sketchy back-room agreements between people you don’t know or trust. And suddenly, it will become abundantly clear that the reasons so many people call America the greatest country in the world are the exact same reasons so many others hate it here.
Of course, none of these lessons will come without a price. They will be layered in hardship and pain and loss. And they will be precluded by anxiety, and by waiting in line for 90 minutes to get a Q-tip stuck up your nose. But there will also be moments of unfettered joy and peace and togetherness — albeit on Zoom, but still — that feel even more formidable than they’d feel in a typical year.
Oh, innocent soul from 2019: I know this makes little sense to you now. But it will, and it will soon. I won’t sugar-coat it; you are in for a rough ride next year (speaking of sugar, you might want to stock up on that, and flour too). But when you’re in the thick of it, you should step back and take some time to feel proud of what you and your friends and loved ones and colleagues and compatriots have survived. And always feel hopeful for a better future. Remember that you are strong — and next year, you will be stronger than you ever could have imagined. You won’t really have a choice.
So, past self, I really do hope this message finds you well. At least well enough to go out and buy some extra toilet paper and Clorox wipes, to upgrade your home office chair, and, if you have any cash left over, maybe to invest in some Moderna stock. Just sayin’. But no matter what, when the universe falls apart around you, and you fall apart too, listen. Learn. Remember. Appreciate. And know that whatever happens, there’s always the promise of a new year.