Insert Foot: Was there a flip side to 2020?

Insert Foot, 2021, John Wooden

Insert Foot is ready for 2021 with a little help from John Wooden.

I usually hate optimists; maybe out of jealousy. Maybe because they always seem to have better teeth than me.

I also hate packaged inspiration–memes, office posters, smiley faces, etc. I believe life is gray, one size doesn’t fit all, and no one can live in another’s head. Things don’t always happen for a reason, especially for people with mediocre teeth.

That said … it’s safe to say this past year really sucked. For most people.

According to Axios, 400,000 more Americans will end up dying in 2020 than 2019–a 15 percent increase. The U.S. hasn’t seen a jump that large since 1918, when the Spanish Flu and World War I killed a stunning 46 percent more Americans than the previous year.

I guess it could’ve been worse, which is easy for us to say. We’re still here.

We all weren’t wiped out physically or economically or emotionally. We didn’t all lose loved ones to COVID-19 or the opioid crisis we seem to have forgotten, or cancer, or racism, or poverty, or a million other ways. But we all saw and felt it to some degree.

Yet I can’t remember a time when there was a more clear-cut period of renewal on the horizon. I’m going to cling to that.

New year, new leadership, new (one hopes) levels of official competence, new vaccine, fewer Confederate flags … new slate. But 2021 and beyond is going to require work to clean up the mess.

If 2020 wasn’t the worst year ever for you, you’re lucky. Maybe you made the best of how things turned out. I’m lucky. And I’m trying to see the flip side(s) of 2020 moving forward.

It was a year of ugly political polarization; the flip side of that was it became easier to know who doesn’t share one’s values.

It was a year of healthcare desperation, when the United States proved it really can’t take care of everyone. Or doesn’t care to. The flip side of that is, hopefully, more people now understand we need real health coverage for all that won’t bankrupt us.

It was a year the rich got richer and the poor stayed that way. Or worse. Hopefully, on the flip side of that some of us learned new survival skills.

We were annoyed over what turned out to be small things. We longed for the chance to again get paid to sit through boring staff meetings, or have to wait for restaurant service, or be irritated at someone standing in front of us at a concert. Yes, I used to hate waiting for someone at the gym to stop playing with their phone and get off that machine. Now I just want back in the building.

Maybe priorities changed and focused. Mine did. Outside of one short, forgettable (no, really) period, I didn’t touch alcohol for a calendar year for the first time as an adult. If there was ever a year to drink, this was the one. I decided the opposite. I worked. I stayed in. I spent more time with my family than I have in a long time. Otherwise, it was a lonely year. But if that’s my biggest complaint, I have no complaints.

John Wooden

UCLA coach John Wooden talks to Bill Walton during a game in Los Angeles on March 25, 1972. Courtesy: Rich Clarkson/Getty Images.

Though general inspiration is frequently lost on me, I think a quote from hall of fame basketball coach John Wooden applies now. My dad loved wisdom from old basketball coaches. He played with legendary Cal coach Pete Newell’s son and ate dinner with the man himself, so I usually hold them in high regard.

“Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out,” said Wooden, the late UCLA legend.

I like that. We’re still here. Time to flip the calendar and push on.

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