Christmas movies have always given me false realities. I don’t think anyone can truthfully say they’re immune to all of the mushy holiday magic — it leaves us all with incredibly high expectations at the holidays, wondering when our “Hallmark moment” is going to happen. I will never be convinced that we don’t all expect these moments at some point in our lives, regardless of how many times we claim to not have set expectations. Well, unfortunately, 2020 took all of our potentially hidden Hallmark expectations and, well, tossed them in the trash.
Every Christmas my family watches Love Actually together (we skip through the dodgy parts for Jimmy). Love Actually is without a doubt one of my favorite movies. It gives you a healthy dose of “Hallmark moments” while also mixing in a bit of real life. The holidays were very different in my house this year, and I imagine they were different in a lot of other houses too. Many of us are missing our friends and family so much as we try to keep everyone safe and healthy. Some of us were lucky enough to spend the holidays with our families, despite how unlucky we might feel about spending more time cooped up together. This year gave me more time than I could’ve ever imagined with my family and there have been countless moments where I could’ve and sometimes did scream because of how insane they drove me.
Looking back at the past nine months now, I feel so incredibly lucky to have spent this time with my family. My parents both managed to maintain their sanity this year with relative grace as we were all quarantined together. I watched my dad navigate public education COVID-style and continue to make meaningful connections with his students even if it had to be through a computer screen. I watched my mom completely transform her firm into an incredibly health-conscious virtual business and dedicate herself to giving back to the people and organizations who have given us so much. I watched Jimmy bake for hours and turn into this incredibly bright and compassionate teenager almost overnight. Despite how Tom felt being forced to come home from school this spring, it was probably one of the biggest blessings for our family this year. This will most likely be our last Christmas with Tom for a while as he gets commissioned as a Naval Officer in May. I will really miss having him home, despite how many times I had to break up Tom and Jimmy fighting.
When I moved to Nashville this fall, I had no idea what to expect. Somehow, I thought going into it all without any expectations would make it all easier. Truthfully, the past semester wasn’t easy. Moving away is hard, especially when all the things you looked forward to can’t happen. There were moments where I wondered if it was all worth it. I wondered if it would’ve been easier to stay home. Then, I met truly wonderful people who exceeded any “non-existent” expectations I had. These people feeling all of the same things I was feeling, people who really understood and supported one another; whether that be on the good or bad days. The friends I made this semester were easily one of the best parts of this year, they opened my eyes and taught me more about myself in one semester than I could’ve imagined. My friends from home were also easily one of the best parts of this year. We did our best to hold each other up in a lot of really hard times, we argued because we were overwhelmed and cared so incredibly much about one another, but we made it through a year together that seemed endless a few months ago.
Expectations have such a negative connotation. We often act as if having expectations for people and things is somehow detrimental to a carefree lifestyle. “If you go into things without expectations, you can’t be let down”, I hate that, I truly do. Expecting people to be or act a certain way and expecting situations to pan out in a certain way is human, it’s what gives us comfort or sometimes leaves us searching for it. For the past few years, I’ve told myself, “I’m going to have as few expectations as possible”. Newsflash, that never works. I learned a lot about myself this year, I think we all did. Whether we were learning things we liked about ourselves or not; we were all just about forced to do a lot more introspection than we ever thought we needed.
Amidst all of the seemingly unnecessary introspection, I found that expectations were one of the hardest parts of 2020, as each month passed we all faced more loss, loneliness, and disappointment. I think we could all go the rest of our lives without ever having to hear that this is an “unprecedented time” again. Having a precedent requires proven expectations, which were absent in nearly every aspect of our lives this year.
This year gave me the lowest moments of my life, but this year also managed to also bring me unmeasurable joy, indescribable love, and extraordinary gratitude. In eighteen years, I have been incredibly lucky to live a life without significant loss or heartbreak. In all honesty, I lived my life up until this year in a bit of a bubble, I could see out into the “real world” but I wasn’t truly experiencing or understanding all of the things that make the “real world” so hard. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not claiming to be well versed in the ways of the world after this year, I am hardly a full functioning adult, but this year I graduated to training wheels and I am slowly learning how to balance in the “real world”.
Thank you to every single person who came into my life this year or simply stayed, you made this year so much brighter, the happiest moments of this year were spent with all of you. When I told myself I was going into 2020 with no expectations, I never expected to finish the year just hoping 2021 would be as simple as any year prior to 2020. Not to mention the gratitude and love I now have for quite literally every person and everything in my life.
In 2020 I was accepted into one of my dream schools, I graduated with some of my best friends, I spent time I never would’ve had with my family, I moved to a city I now love, and I met some of the most wonderful people who came into my life exactly when I needed them. This year I learned that “love is actually all around” (if you haven’t heard Hugh Grant say that in “Love Actually, you have to before the year ends).
2020 taught us all to love more. To love and appreciate our friends and family, the incredible healthcare professionals who are risking their lives for us every day, the teachers who have worked tirelessly for us despite their personal struggles, and each and every person who is working to bring us a brighter future. We often underestimate how far compassion goes with one another; platonic, appreciative love is a wonderful thing, something we all should be putting out into the world any chance we get.
I plan to go into 2021 with expectations. Hope–if you will. I am choosing to start this year hopeful our world will heal, hoping we all get the chance to better our own lives and communities. I am expecting myself to put all of the love I have received this year back into the world and maintain the gratitude I gained this year.
I know when the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve, 2020 won’t magically be over. We still have a long road ahead of us, but 2021 feels hopeful, and hope is what we all need after this year. I am going into 2021 with the hope and expectation that I will end it in some way better than when I started. Expectations aren’t bad, they hold us accountable for something we expect of ourselves or others, whether that is conscious or not.
I am not going to say we “needed 2020” when we absolutely did not. Too many people suffered this year, but I hope somewhere amidst all of it we’re all ending this year focusing on how grateful we are for the people and things that were good this year.
Here’s to hope and high expectations in 2021.