4 Things 2020 Taught Me

Dec 16, 2020 | Gratitude & Other Reflections, Writing

There’s very little that 2020 truly taught me, though it may have driven a few untested lessons home like a pile-driver, and I’d give myself a “C” at best, for most of them. Among the things that 2020 has taught me is that life’s too short for superficial platitudes, so I’m not going to give you any – even if a few of them ring true.

Solitude is Only Sweet When It’s By Choice

The first revelation, though, is that empathetic introverts suffer anxiety when the extroverts around them are climbing the walls. And then, we begin not to revel in our solitude as much as we otherwise might. It becomes obvious that choice is key to the difference between solitude and house arrest, and I began to see that there has always been a flaw to my logic – that if I were ever to commit a crime, I’d pray for solitary confinement. Instead, I think I’ll recommit to living a good and honest life, because there is no happy in between – and I’m not cut out for gen pop or solitary.

Life Can Be a Journey or a Series of Holding Patterns

Some people learned to bake sourdough bread. Others learned a new language. I learned to make an easy Dutch oven bread and I bought a lifetime subscription to Rosetta Stone I haven’t used, yet. Does that count? Was that my one nod to hope – to assume that I would actually have a lifetime beyond 2020, in order to make that purchase worthwhile?

Maybe it was just too much of a sad reminder of ruined travel plans, but had hope really been more than a half-glowing ember with a patina of gray ash, I might have started learning Portuguese. But it’s still there – I at least kept my options open. I have saved concert tickets rescheduled from last September to next. I have plans for a year from now, and if that’s not “hope,” what is? I always said that a pessimist is just an optimist who can’t take disappointment. So, if ever I seem pessimistic, remember that. It’s not negativity – it’s keeping the fluttering butterflies of hope under the net till it’s time to fly. That’s all.

Tomorrow May Never Come

Reach out and let old friends know you’re thinking of them. A friend died, over the summer. I hadn’t seen her since March or talked to her in nearly a month before she died. She died alone, and was found four days later. She’d be the first to remind me that the phone worked both ways and not to beat myself up over that, and she’d be right. It was a bittersweet chance for me to get to know her cousin better, and to touch base with mutual friends and former colleagues I hadn’t talked to in 10-20 years. We think we have all the time in the world, but none of us do.

Isn’t it funny how, as we grow older, the news that some celebrity has died “aged 97” or so, no longer elicits a casual, “Good for them – that was a good long life!” Yeah, and so would 100 have been. But having said that, I don’t think I’d choose immortality. The world needs young people with new ideas. Not young people reinventing the wheel for no particularly good reason, but fresh ideas and innovations. To the young people out there: That’s not just another app for tracking Instagram followers, you hear me? That’s cybersecurity, peace, affordable healthcare and housing for all, eliminating hunger, mitigating the effects of climate change…

2020 and 2019 Were Friends

Remember when we toasted to the start of 2020, a brand new decade, yelling at 2019 not to let the door hit it on the way out?

I’m convinced that they were friends. Just as those high school nerds might have been friends with your secret crush, 2019 was friends with 2020. And 2020 saw how we treated 2019. Maybe we forgot to stop and appreciate the things that went well. Surely, there were a few? Maybe we were just too eager to get it over with, and rushed through life with blinders on. Well, 2020 sure showed us, didn’t it?

So I suggest that, this New Year’s Eve, we toast to a strange and sometimes tragic year, but make an effort to remember whatever good things it brought, and bless it on its way out, even as we welcome 2021. Just in case they’re still on speaking terms.


Holly Jahangiri is the author of Trockle, illustrated by Jordan Vinyard; A Puppy, Not a Guppy, illustrated by Ryan Shaw; and the newest release: A New Leaf for Lyle, illustrated by Carrie Salazar. She draws inspiration from her family, from her own childhood adventures (some of which only happened in her overactive imagination), and from readers both young and young-at-heart. She lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband, J.J., whose love and encouragement make writing books twice the fun.


  1. Ming Qian

    Tomorrow may never come hits home a little hard. Knowing what I know, feeling what I feel, I am doubly guilty every time I cancel on a friend or postpone a meet up due to work or school. Last month, it came out in local news over here that an old lady who lived in an apartment by herself was only found dead with her dog two years later. The thought of it happening to anyone I know scares me.

    Okay, to end off this comment on a lighter note. I am glad to have known you and other like-minded writers in 2020! Looking forward to reading more of your short stories and opinion pieces, and perhaps, even meeting you in 2021. 🙂
    Ming Qian recently posted…6 Things to be Grateful For This Covid SemesterMy Profile

    • Holly Jahangiri

      It’s mutual, Ming Qian. Two years? And – oh, I shudder to think how much longer the dog lasted, and on what. (My friend had dogs, too. Four of the five survived; one was older, and needed medication, and did not last but about a week longer.)

  2. Ruchi

    It’s not negativity – it’s keeping the fluttering butterflies of hope under the net till it’s time to fly. That’s all. … I loved these lines .. yes at the end its hope which keeps you going ! Also loved your analysis on the forced solitude.

  3. Yvonne Chase

    2020 taught me I can do hard things. It showed me how resourceful I am and that when my back is against the wall, I figure it out.

    Love the lessons it taught you. Tomorrow may never come is something we say all the time yet somehow we don’t live it until a tragedy. Sorry for the loss of your friend.
    Yvonne Chase recently posted…Focused On Creating New MemoriesMy Profile

    • Holly Jahangiri

      I am GOOD at getting things done when my back is to the wall! (Shhh. Probably best we don’t say that too loud, eh? 🙂 ) I think, though, this is instinctive – the “nothing left to lose” mentality that says, “Well, full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes!” I do wish I could muster that same attitude long before that point, though.

      I was having this “tomorrow may never come” chat with a young friend. We are the ones left behind to suffer regret. And the only purpose regret serves is to motivate us to do better, to maybe treat each happy moment spent with loved ones and friends as if it MIGHT be the last, so we have no lingering reasons for regret. We can’t go back, and the ones who’ve gone and left us behind wouldn’t want us to stay stuck in that regret forever. As my mom used to say, “Funerals are for the living.” I think I’ve come to realize this more and more, as I get older. I have told both of my kids this, and to do whatever makes THEM happy, when I’m gone – but to remember, if they outlive me and are around to grieve my death, I died happy. Miss me, but live happy. Somewhere – wherever that may be – I’ll be at peace.

  4. Shilpa Gupte

    I loved this line: “So, if ever I seem pessimistic, remember that. It’s not negativity – it’s keeping the fluttering butterflies of hope under the net till it’s time to fly. That’s all.”

    Yeah, 2020 was tough, but it did teach us a precious few lessons and to that I will toast as I step into the new year this 31st.

    • Holly Jahangiri

      Good evening, Shilpa! I have two bouncers on this blog, and had to have a word with BOTH of them this morning! Oy. You’ve certainly left enough approved comments here they should have recognized you and bowed. So sorry you were not treated as the honored guest and friend that you are, Shilpa – and thank you for asking what happened to your comment. 🙂 Hopefully, we won’t have such issues again, but my friend Marian also seems stuck in an alternative universe and I keep having to fish her comments out of the moat, so I make no promises. I can only promise you dry clothes and a hot tea each time, and I thank you in advance if you keep trying!

      I am glad to feel reasons for optimism and hope, finally, in this last few weeks of the year – I’m glad you are, too.

  5. Pat Stoltey

    I haven;t had much trouble with the stay-at-home life, but I’m fortunate to have a good husband, an energetic dog, and a crazy cat. I worry most about my friends who moved into assisted living just a few months before COVID-19 showed up, those who live completely alone with no person or no pet to comfort them, and all those heroes out there keeping us going, whether front-line medical workers or grocery store employees. I’m grateful for curbside pickup, online ordering, and Zoom (among many other things).

    • Holly Jahangiri

      I regret, somewhat, not having written a novel or at least a collection of short stories in all this “free time.” I resolve to live without regrets, in 2021! 🙂

      We are lucky, aren’t we, Pat?

  6. Sharon Hurley Hall

    Great lessons. I relate to the first one. I am a confirmed introvert, but I really disliked *having* to be inside for months (though I obeyed the rules, of course). That said, now that things have relaxed a bit chez moi, I’m still mostly indoors. It’s just that now it’s my choice.
    Sharon Hurley Hall recently posted…3 Books From My Anti-Racism JourneyMy Profile

    • Holly Jahangiri

      Choice really does make all the difference, doesn’t it? I don’t think we were ever forbidden from going outside, here. The parks were closed but briefly. And while they were, it was unbearably hot outside, anyway. I prefer it now, when it’s sunny and cold and no one wants to be out there (especially nice on work days – one of the benefits of retirement).

  7. Mitchell Allen

    I agree with #1. I miss my walks! There are too many maskless fools in my area, so it’s not an option. The rest of the lessons are spot-on, though I may fail at blessing 2020…


    Mitchell Allen recently posted…Baba Yaga Fairy TaleMy Profile

    • Holly Jahangiri

      We should try, though, don’t you think? Kicking 2019 to the curb like we did didn’t work out so well.

    • Holly Jahangiri

      I would still take the walks – but glare at the maskless fools and try to walk AHEAD of them (fully masked, yourself!). I don’t wear my mask on walks at the park, but always have one with me just in case it’s more crowded along the path than I’m comfortable with. Or to give others reassurance. I know I’ve recently tested negative and have not left the house in two weeks, but strangers don’t know that and have no reason to think I’m not a fool. I do think airflow, confinement, and length of exposure matter. But if the park is crowded, I just drive on back home or find another. That said, I too-often find reasons not to go, lately, and the lack of regular exercise takes a toll, too.

  8. Jyothi

    “Maybe we were just too eager to get it over with, and rushed through life with blinders on. Well, 2020 sure showed us, didn’t it?” –

    It sure did! Oh My! What a year. I had solid blinders on my dear. I was already on a learning path because of all the free “empty nester” time, but this 2020 catapulted every lazy laid back thought of mine into the sky and brought them right back down to earth. Lesson learned! Never again!
    Jyothi recently posted…What 2020 has taught me?My Profile

    • Holly Jahangiri

      I’m so glad it wasn’t just me. 😀 Let’s try to notice more, this year. I have not given up on this year’s word – #observant – but I have chosen a new one and a more active role in creating the experiences I want, even if I have to invent imaginary worlds on paper to do it.

  9. Natasha

    Dear Holly,

    Indeed tomorrow may never come, and we got to do what we got to do, instead of putting it off for another time. I guess that is one of the most worthwhile lessons this pandemic has left with.

    I have saved concert tickets rescheduled from last September to next.

    I like that! I’m so glad we went for a U2 concert in December 2019, just in time to take the Covid blow! lol!
    And another vacation to Africa in October 2019. It helped us deal better with the suspended travel plans.

    Yes, let’s keep our fingers and toes crossed for a kinder 2021! Amen to that.

    Happy holidays and Happy Yule for you and yours.
    Natasha recently posted…5 Lessons 2020 Has Taught Me: #TuesdayMotivation #MondayMusingsMy Profile

    • Holly Jahangiri

      It’s funny-not-funny, but we saw half of The Who concert here last year – it was canceled midway through, because Roger Daltrey’s voice gave out, and was rescheduled – for APRIL. So that’s not happening, ever. At least we got half a concert for free, as they refunded us the ticket price. It was good, too.

      At least most of our travel plans could be rescheduled to summer, assuming we’re able to get vaccinated and all. It’s funny, too, thinking back on travel when I was younger that required vaccinations that were not typical for the USA. Twice before, in my life, I’ve had to have shots to visit another country, so this is nothing new. Let’s just hope there are no major hiccups in delivery, eh? I’ve offered to take the place of any anti-vaxxers who’d otherwise be ahead of me in the queue!

  10. Esha

    Couldn;t agree more with you and your 4 lessons, Holly! What a journey it has been for all of us!! For me, personally, both 2019 and 2020 were the same so I know what you mean! All travel plans were cancelled but the rough ride we had proved hellish and I’m so glad that we’re leaving 2020 behind us.
    Hopefully, with the lessons learnt, we’re all getting to be a little wiser, knowing that tomorrow will bring along a lot of uncertainties, but at least, now we’re forewarned (not sure if that is any consolation!!) so we KNOW that things ARE going to be unpredictable in the coming days/months/years.
    Esha recently posted…My Word of the Year for 2021 | #WOTYMy Profile

    • Holly Jahangiri

      We will weather life’s storms. The alternative is unthinkable, and our stories aren’t finished. What will the bards sing of us if we don’t give them material for more chapters? 🙂 What fun would it be if life WERE predictable, anyway? I suppose one of the “lessons learned” (or at least “lessons TAUGHT”) by 2020 is how to adjust plans and deal with disappointments. Wallowing in disappointment does no more good than worrying about the unknown. Preparing and acting – that’s what matters. Doing nothing – well, it can signal defeat, or waiting for things that may never come, or it can prevent rash action and disaster. Thinking, planning, adjusting – that’s not really “doing nothing” is it? Recognizing our own response to the unforeseen and the unthinkable, that’s not really “doing nothing” either. But getting STUCK in that – that’s dangerous. I think this month, I feel myself getting “unstuck.” Took long enough, but at least it’s happening!

  11. Geethica Mehra

    This is a very apt post, Holly. All these lessons are so true in real life. We often resect and give value to a person after he/she is gone. We think we know all but seldom have time to say personally hi or call up.
    I also connected instantly with the phrase solitude by choice is sweeter than as a punishment. I always crave for me-time when all are around but if I am forced to live alone for months I may take it positively.

    • Holly Jahangiri

      I give value to the people in my life, but not always the attention they deserve. Sometimes, I have a feeling – and I’m afraid to find out bad news. I withdraw. I hang onto the memories of us in my head. I’m not good at “live every day as if it may be your last.” I’m very much aware of that fact, but it tends to give me more anxiety than it’s worth. I think this goes along with the idea of “solitude by choice” – anything we have choice in gives us some measure of control. I don’t see myself as a “control freak” at all, really. But over my own life, I do need to feel I can control things or I just get into this mode of “waiting for the other shoe to drop.” That summed up a lot of 2020 – just “waiting for the other shoe to drop.” But what if it has? What if it already has? Gotta keep putting one foot in front of the other.

  12. Corinne Rodrigues

    You’re such a nerd! Love how you take on life unafraid and ready for every new adventure! ♥
    Sorry about the loss of your friend, Holly. I had no idea.

    • Holly Jahangiri

      I thought this was one of my less-nerdy posts! LOL Thanks, Corinne.

  13. John Gatesby

    There won’t be any year like 2020 ever and I wish there ever is in the future. Life is completely changed, the way we work, shop or even socialize. I remember going into depression towards the end of 2020, not being able to sleep properly. It took some time to overcome that but one good habit I cultivated during that time is working out at home and found some good free workout videos on youtube.
    John Gatesby recently posted…Is Joint Hypermobility Syndrome Ehlers Danlos?My Profile

    • Holly Jahangiri

      That is a good habit to cultivate, John. I find working out at home feels awkward (surprisingly MORE awkward than outdoors or at a gym). But now that we have vaccinations and boosters on board and the local YMCA is open again, I’m really enjoying water exercise and hiking in the parks. We have some lovely little parks nearby, and our precinct continues to develop more natural, outdoor spaces. As long as the weather cooperates, it’s a great option.

      As for the social aspects of the pandemic, I imagine it’s been a lot harder on the extroverts of the world – and we introverts have discovered we’d rather our solitude be by choice and on our own terms. We’re not into being told what to do! But we’re also empathetic, most of us. We can feel the pain of those who aren’t accustomed to swimmng in solitude for long periods of time. Those who prefer face to face – really! – to Zoom. (Although I can’t imagine this past year and a half without video conferencing, can you?)

      Keeping ourselves healthy for better times is hugely important.
      Holly Jahangiri recently posted…To Stop a Serial Comma KillerMy Profile

      • John Gatesby

        Water exercises are really great, they are tough, gives your solid resistance to overcome and in the process burns lots of calories and gives you strength. So if you are into this, continue doing it.

        In my case, I always create wonderful excuses(I am very creative :)) to not to go to gym. But working out at home has robbed me of those excuses :).

        With lockdowns no longer in force, I have begun to enjoy my regular 5 K runs in my beautiful neighborhood park.

        As far as work is concerned, I am still remotely working from home.

        • Holly Jahangiri

          I have a holiday luncheon with my water aerobics classmates this week! It’s definitely my favorite exercise, but time to branch out as it’s getting harder and harder to get my heart rate into calorie burning range.

    • Holly Jahangiri

      I’m sure they thought the same thing during the Spanish Inquisition, the plague, WWI and WWII, the Holocaust, the flu epidemic… but I hope you’re right, that we won’t see another such widespread disaster in our lifetimes.



  1. Happy New Year, and Everything It Brings! | Holly Jahangiri - […] We’re all “in it together, separately.” And that’s okay. But I think enough’s been said about this year to…

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