Let’s recycle 2020.

I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid we didn’t recycle anything. I’m not sure I ever heard the word back then. Everything went in the trash – plastic, metal, everything. In fact, some of my best memories with my Dad are driving out to the dump on a Saturday morning, to discard whatever we were throwing away and shoot at some empty Coke bottles in the bargain. Now those were some good old days.

Today, we take more care – and it’s a good thing. We rinse out the plastic and metal and try to turn it into something better. We use cloth rather than paper towels and even re-use Ziploc bags. Our thoughtfulness is helping, and it’s also turning our thoughts more toward conservation than consumption. Again, that’s a really good thing.

So, as I hear everyone talking about “throwing out” 2020 and saying goodbye to the “dumpster fire” – which I am certainly in agreement with – I’m also keen to reap what we can from all the rubble. As we put the last milk jug with a December 2020 date in the recycling bin, let’s take a moment to think about what we can use from the past 12 months.

What shall we keep?

It may take some pondering, but we can all come up with a few small things we’ve gained in 2020. These probably pale to the amount of distress we’ve endured, but they still matter. Here are a few of mine:

My daily walks. My full-time job is gone, and I work now from a corner of my kitchen. Every day is an online adventure, with some consulting and some teaching, and quite a bit of home management. But every day, almost without fail, I also bundle up and head outdoors with my pup. This is usually the brightest spot of my day, when the sun warms me and the cold wind wakes me up. Often I see a neighbor, and sometimes we see a bit of nature (yes, even a moose or a bunny). As many British writers have noted, this “daily constitutional” is key to a happy life and seems even more necessary these days, as a regular fresh-air break from the demands of living.

Good, home-cooked meals. This doesn’t happen every day, and sometimes not even every week. Meals often come from boxes and take-out. But one of the ways I got through the March quarantine was by exploring a new type of cuisine each week – Chinese, Mexican, Greek, Italian. It kept me from going mad and kept my teenager from starving of boredom. Setting aside a few dollars each week to try something new and fun is an easy way to keep things interesting – even if it really is just a few dollars!

Sleep, sleep, sleep…or at least REST. Although I’ve had plenty of sleepless nights, I’m also learning to calm myself down enough to at least rest. Maybe a full night’s sleep won’t come back until the pandemic is over, and we can say goodbye to election politics, but a good rest can still be had. One of the few silver linings to being at home is the ability to possibly sleep in a bit, or take a nap, or just stare out the window for a few minutes when it all seems too much. Taking a break from our cares can do wonders for our perspective, and there are plenty of tricks to getting a good night’s sleep as well.

What shall we re-purpose?

Rhetoric. As someone who makes my living with words, it’s hard not to be discouraged about the past 12 months of discourse. Our words matter, and the English language has suffered as much abuse as anything else in 2020. Harsh, hate-filled words have divided us, establishing binaries that seem impossible to overcome. But guess what? Words can also heal. Notice the language you use; does it create “sides”? Reinforce differences? Or does it acknowledge a third way? Or, as Thich Nhat Hanh describes it, the middle way?

In our college writing courses, we teach multi-sided inquiry, which abolishes binaries and instead seeks to examine an issue from multiple perspectives. This process requires a thorough review of other perspectives before we can even begin to make an argument about our own. It also requires the support of established facts to support these views, a discipline that is sadly becoming less common in our societal exchanges. Talking points and faulty logic are far too prevalent today, so it’s time to make a change in our own thinking and develop ways to think more critically. Through this kind of research and inquiry, we can go beyond a two-sided view of the world and truly start to understand each other. After all, education is the first step toward understanding.

Also, turning off the TV can help.

What shall we discard?

Here are just a few: Fear, intimidation, and ignorance. An inability to see things from another perspective. An unwillingness to learn the facts before stating an opinion. Selfishness and anger, most of which derive from fear. In short, all of the things that bring us sadness and none of the things that bring us joy.

Keeping what matters.

One of the best things I’ve gained in 2020 is a few special memories with my teenage son. During quarantine, we walked together almost every day, and that gave me a chance to learn a few things about him I didn’t know, and to listen more than I had in the past. I know this isn’t true for all of us, but hopefully we’ve all had at least one small moment to cherish from 2020. Was there a time when one of your kids hugged you a little tighter? Did you share a special treat you might not have otherwise done? Even a glance at the sunset on our way to run an errand counts as a take-away from this spectacularly unsettling year. In a 2020 that has felt very much like a dumpster fire, there are sparks we can capture and fan into a more beautiful flame.

So, these are the things I’d like to keep, from 2020. We can toss out the acrimony and division, and let’s leave behind the sadness and the suffering. But let’s also keep the things we didn’t know we needed…the small moments we gained even as the world around us burned. And let’s turn those little moments into something we can actually build upon for a better 2021.