By Emily Erickson
I rushed from the kitchen to my little office desk, clutching my freshly steeped mug of tea in one hand and throwing open my laptop with the other. It was mere seconds before my scheduled Zoom meeting and, I thought, if I could smoothly set down my mug and smash in my computer password, I could still be on time. Alas, as the condensation on the bottom of my cup made contact with the shallow sill on which I placed it, it was as if the universe was laughing at me. Having only enough time to snatch my laptop out of the course of the teetering mug, I watched as the steamy contents and fragile ceramic chunks splattered across the floor.
“Well, shit.” I thought, and then declared, “Today is most definitely an unlucky day.”
It wasn’t until later, after my meeting had finished and while I was scrounging for rogue mug shards, that I thought about how absurd a conclusion that was. In reality, the great mug fall of my morning had very little to do with luck, and everything to do with my actions leading up to that event: I chose to wake up late, to rush about my house with reckless abandon and to not pause the extra second it would have taken to find a secure spot for my beverage.
When appropriately framing the event, I understood that my misfortune was really exactly what I had been asking for. By acknowledging my role in the mishap, I was setting myself up to prevent something similar from happening in the future.
So now, as I’m perched inside writing these words, with the air beyond my walls considered dangerous to breathe, in the year of one unprecedented event after another, I can’t help but apply that same frame of mind to our collective 2020 experience.
If the West Coast being blanketed in fire and smoke is the big-picture equivalent of my cascading tea, don’t we have to consider that maybe our current circumstances have very little to do with “the year that won’t quit” and so much more to do with our actions leading up to them?
When framed appropriately, our preceding actions to these unprecedented wildfires were to ignore proper land management for decades, routinely suppressing natural burns because they could harm our precious timber harvests and recreation areas. From our carelessness, we additionally introduced invasive, highly flammable plant species to our ecosystems. Even still, our choices reflect a continued denial of climate change, prioritizing antiquated industry and self-interested businesses over a planet designed to naturally heal itself when properly cared for.
When holding ourselves accountable — while holding in tandem the heartfeldt horror for the destruction and loss of property and life — shouldn’t we conclude some of this is exactly what we’ve been asking for?
This logic can be applied to the other unprecedented events in 2020. When people were protesting in the streets, fighting for equal rights and justice for the lives lost within their communities — even pushed to riots and looting — shouldn’t we stop asking ourselves, “Could this year get any worse?” and instead question what we did to get here in the first place?
When taking responsibility for our actions, we have to acknowledge that it was our country that built its social and economic infrastructure on the backs of enslaved Black people, and which continues to profit off of oppression to this day. It’s been the choice of the powerful and privileged to look the other way when minority communities disproportionately interact with our broken criminal justice system, simultaneously disregarding their stories when they don’t fit the narrative of an attainable “American Dream.” Instead of social unrest being just another 2020 curveball, maybe it’s exactly what we’ve been asking for.
When reframing our unprecedented year, I’d be remiss not to acknowledge how it all got started, with the novel coronavirus pandemic looming over our heads. As the last developed nation standing with high numbers of COVID-19 positive cases in our communities, hanging on to our pandemic struggle with every doubting, mask-protesting fiber of our existence, shouldn’t we acknowledge our role in this unfortunate event?
Wasn’t it our leadership at the federal, state and local levels that failed to take a timely bipartisan stance to keep us safe? As individuals, aren’t we continuing to choose the convenience of looking out solely for ourselves, instead of being conscious of the vulnerable populations within our communities?
Suffice to say, I don’t know what the next unprecedented event of 2020 will be, but it will most likely be exactly what we’ve been asking for.
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