2020 has been a year of great loss for many. Here’s what we can do with it.
The start of a new year brings us a chance to consider how we treat one another. It is one of the few things we have in our control.
As we prepare for the promise of a new year, I know many of us are leaving behind a year filled with professional and personal challenges.
This year brought hardships that few could have predicted, from the economic and social upheavals caused by COVID-19 to the obstacles life brings us even outside of a pandemic or recession.
As we collectively close this chapter, we are weary from months of change, social isolation and exhausting public discourse.
This year has been rough on schools
As state Superintendent, I am lucky to have the opportunity to hear from Arizonans across our state. Many have candidly shared their concerns, worries and frustrations with me throughout the year.
Teachers in rural and urban areas alike have shared that their at-home internet cannot support their work and their children’s online learning at the same time. My Student Advisory Council members have expressed concerns about the social-emotional well-being of their friends and teachers.
Parents continue to worry about the academic, social and emotional progress of their children – as well as their own ability to support their families while learning and growing takes place at home.
School leaders and school board members are worn down after a year of long school board meetings, painful decisions and loss within their communities. Tragically, we have lost 8,125 Arizonans to this virus at the time of this writing. Each loss represents a valued member of our communities, and in some cases, our schools.
Some struggles are beyond what I can imagine – and my heart aches for students, families, teachers and school leaders who have had to face these challenges without their usual support systems or in isolation from loved ones.
2020 also brought great personal loss
Being far from loved ones has been one of the most challenging parts of the pandemic for me. When my father was rushed to the hospital for acute heart failure this summer, I could not be by his side – even when I thought he might be at the end of his life. And as he became the lucky recipient of a successful heart transplant, I still could not travel or care for him in-person.
But maybe the hardest moment of this year came in the spring as I sat alone in my doctor’s office, receiving the news that my first pregnancy was ending after just eight weeks.
In another year, I would have heard that news alongside my husband, where we could have processed and grieved together in-person. But due to mitigation strategies that were in place at the time, I became one of the many Americans who learned to cope with loss in isolation, sharing our heartbreak over text messages and calls instead.
It is important to me to share these stories because, in the face of all these difficulties, an opportunity exists for all of us to lead with empathy and kindness as we try to ease each other’s burdens.
We all could use more empathy
The start of a new year brings us a chance to consider how we approach and interact with one another. It is one of the few things we have in our control.
So, I ask you, my fellow Arizonans, as I will ask of myself, that you treat others how you wish you were treated and cared for at your lowest moment in 2020. Act as if the person you are speaking with just lost a job, a home, a loved one, a future. Act as if they are scared, or lonely, or tired to their bones.
This collective empathy is necessary and within our reach. Most importantly, we must intentionally turn our empathy into action. It will help us move beyond the pain of this year to something new, more hopeful and kinder.
Kathy Hoffman is Arizona’s Superintendent of Public Instruction. This column originally published in The Arizona Republic and was also provided to The Daily Courier.