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It was the worst of times. Even in the brightest moments of 2020, when we clapped in unison out of our windows for health-care heroes or snuggled with our suddenly housebound children, things were pretty awful.
More than 345,000 Americans and counting have died of COVID-19. Millions have lost their livelihoods and businesses, while schooling has ground to a halt for millions of kids. The election was narrow and bitter. Our nerves are frayed, our faces masked.
But there are teachable moments in the bad times, lessons we have to learn to do better going forward, and 2020 gave us a boatload of those. Here are the three we should all absorb.
1) Government is fallible. In February, our elected officials, from President Trump down to local apparatchiks, largely reassured us that everything was fine. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said we should worry about the regular flu, not the novel coronavirus. In April, he admitted there were likely some 10,000 COVID cases in the state by February.
In Gotham, Mark Levine, chairman of the City Council’s Health Committee, tweeted that New Yorkers staying away from Lunar New Year celebrations in Chinatown are “missing out.” Around the same time, the city’s then-Health Commissioner, Dr. Oxiris Barbot, warned that the greatest threats to the city are “racist ideas” and alarmist “misinformation” about the virus.
Nancy Pelosi likewise visited San Francisco’s Chinatown on Feb. 29, encouraging tourists to join her. “Come, because precautions have been taken,” the House speaker said. “The city is on top of the situation.”
Nobody was on top of anything.
Even Dr. Anthony Fauci, today’s liberal icon of technocratic mastery, told the “Today” show in February that there was no need to change our lifestyles because of COVID-19.
It isn’t officials’ fault that they didn’t know what they didn’t know. It is their fault, however, that they made confident declarations pretending they knew. That’s why it’s so important to be duly skeptical of all government assertions and to think for ourselves.
In March, wearing a mask was the province of the ignorant, too dumb to realize a mask wouldn’t protect them; a few weeks later, masks were mandatory, and people now wear them outdoors, even when there is no one else around, taking government guidelines to irrational extremes.
The better way: We should always judge government edicts, regulatory or deregulatory, against the yardstick of common sense.
2) Find who matters and be with them. As we all sat at home for months, what and who was important to our lives came into sharp focus. The pandemic was a reckoning for relationships. Which friends did we most miss? It was a social do-over.
No longer did we have to see people who don’t matter to us. As we eased back into socializing, to whom did we reach out first? The process tore apart many friendships, but it’s a good thing to realize who really matters. We can use that knowledge going forward. We don’t need to spend time with people who don’t do it for us.
3) Live your life. Many who survived serious cases of COVID-19 say they now realize how precious and short life is. You don’t have to contract the virus to recognize that. We only get so much time here on earth. Perhaps refreshing Twitter and arguing with strangers on the Internet isn’t the best use of that time.
Don’t put off for later the things you most want to do. We aren’t promised a later. Make the job change you’ve been thinking about. Leave the relationship that isn’t working. Travel (restrictions permitting, that is). We don’t know when another mass crisis will shut down our lives again. Don’t wait for COVID-23 or COVID-25 to hit before realizing your life has been one big pause.
Most of all, go easy on yourself and others. We have all been through something traumatic. We’ve learned these lessons the hardest way. Let’s take them into 2021 and beyond.