What have you learned?

Opinion: Ken Trainor

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By Ken Trainor

Staff writer

July 1 is the first day of the second half of the year. A good time to take stock. The first half of 2020 has been … well … interesting to say the least, harrowing to say the most, certainly disruptive. A half-year to remember. Pandemic panic, economic shutdown, a rendezvous with reality on racism. Police reform? The beginning of the end for Donald Trump? Too early to tell, but there is cause for cautious optimism.

No one will ever forget the first half of Double20. And the second half could be more memorable still.

Let's hope we've learned something. Did we learn anything from 9/11? Did we learn anything from the 2008-09 Great Recession? What a waste it would be if we go through all this and don't learn anything. Double20 will either mark the American Renaissance, when we overcame our double vision and finally focused on fulfilling this nation's immense promise — or it will mark the beginning of our rapid decline into irrelevance on the world stage.

Double years are rare. We only get one every century. 1919 featured … a pandemic (also the Black Sox scandal). In 1818, well, Illinois became a state.

Illinois doesn't get much respect, but things have generally gone better in states where people listen to what government health experts are telling them. We learned that a prerequisite of good government is having a plan, communicating that plan clearly, and then following the plan. Fortunately, blue states like Illinois have that kind of government. And villages like Oak Park and River Forest followed the plan. We're friendly, but we keep our distance. We wear our masks without complaining that our civil rights are being violated. We don't equate paying attention to your government with surrendering your civil liberties. 

Unlike red states. All across the Southeast and Southwest, people are suffering COVID-19 spikes, essentially because of their distrust of government. Their leaders locked down too late and then opened up too early. They didn't have a plan to follow. They didn't listen to the health experts. They listened to Donald Trump who never wears a mask.

I've learned plenty in 2020: That I don't miss being a consumer to the extent that we were consumers before — i.e. pressured to spend more and more and more because the economy depends on it. I learned we need a different kind of economy — a more democratic economy that works for us instead of the other way around. Actually, I knew that before, but this confirmed it.

I learned how many of my fellow villagers I've never seen because in the last four months, far more of them were out walking or biking or jogging or picnicking in the parks or sitting on benches or on front porches, so I laid eyes on them at last. It was nice to make their acquaintance (and their dogs). Where they were before coronavirus hit is anyone's guess. Working, I suppose, in far-flung locales. 

I'll bet a lot of them learned that life is better when you don't spend so much of it commuting. And that home is not such a bad place to hang out.

I learned this country has glaring shortcomings and inequities when they weren't covered up by the distractions of living in a hyperactive culture.

I learned we badly needed a break from that frenetic pace, and that I'm in no hurry to rejoin it. I would rather keep living the way I've been living for the past four months. I learned there is a lot about the world as it was that I don't like and much about this slower-paced world that I do like.

I gained a new appreciation of sunlight and silence and even "carriage walks," that long forgotten part of our infrastructure, serving some forgotten purpose, which run along the curb in many places, just wide enough for one person to walk as we perform what one writer calls "the pandemic do-si-do," our efforts to amiably avoid each other on the main walkways.

I learned that hiking to the Desplaines River and back starts to feel normal after a while. Thanks to my walking buddy's FitBit, I learned that we ambled the length of the Great Barrier Reef, or 1,400 miles, most of it this year. I learned that, putting one foot in front of the other, you can really get someplace, even if it's just within a few miles of home. 

I learned to appreciate the progression from winter through spring into summer, in all its abundant flowering, in a more intimate fashion than ever before.

I've learned we experience this pandemic in very different ways. 

What have you learned?

The biggest thing I learned is what it's like to have death lurking everywhere, surrounding us, so immediate, so close. It was instructive. What it's like to feel so vulnerable. Living with low-level, ever-present fear. It made me realize how much I don't want to die — not now — and by extension, how much I still want to live. 

And once you know that, once you shrug off your indifference about living, what then? 

That's what I hope to learn in the second half of 2020.

Contact:
Email: ktrainor@wjinc.com

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