The snow has a hopeful sheen this January morning. Whether it is the extra splash of Bailey’s in my coffee mug or just my good fortune to find a path not yet littered by tire tracks and street slush, when I turned the corner on my walk, I could not help but sweep my fingers across the top layer of snow with the same curiosity a toddler has when presented with a tray full of untouched glitter. My mind needed my hands to affirm this lustrous showmanship was genuine and, instinctively, I signed my name on the blank palette with slow and dreamy cursive loops. For a moment, I existed in full brilliance.

2020 was a dark, twisted path, plagued with more corners than clearings, more shadows than shores.

The reach of COVID-19 has been exhaustive, crippling the world with a multi-faceted threat of health, economic,

political and moral failure. For a year, we have been collectively holding our breath, unable to see what is around the corner, let alone secure a safe harbor. I find myself in the habit of taking shallow breaths and instructing my feet to risk only one careful step at a time.

We are shaken. Gripping a pocket full of pebbles to toss into the new intersection of 2021 with a watchful eye and ear to unannounced movement, we move slowly. Lovely as the promise of fresh snow may be, we know, we are still in the woods and the winter sun remains low in the sky.

After such a tumultuous year, it would be easy to remember 2020 as darkness. And yet, when asked what word I would choose to define 2020, I heard myself answer “Light.” This did not earn me any party favors.

I will argue, however, that the events of 2020 have left us exposed on almost every level. Our vulnerability to a global pandemic, our deep-seeded racism in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, our propagation of political divisiveness and our striking reluctance to choose neighbor over self has met the spotlight without filter.

Whatever masks we have been half-heartedly wearing, have been decidedly tossed aside. We may not like what lies beneath, but we can no longer argue it does not exist. Exposure may be the light we need to make a true examination of our current world.

When challenged with great unknowns, we have also seen the emergence of true leadership. Scientists and educators, first line workers and nurses, people from all walks of life have stepped forward with courage and creativity to provide care and safety. Humble leaders making masks to share with a community and exhausted leaders working endless shifts in hospitals, self-sacrificing individuals have risked their own comfort for the survival of others.

They have been the light in our communities, on a large and small scale.

Of course, many have lighted candles in memory of those lost in 2020. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 300,000 people have died due to COVID-19 in the United States this year.

And while there is much we still do not understand about this virus, we have learned it is callously non-discriminate. It has claimed the lives of young and old, healthy and sick, rich and poor. It continues to extinguish too many too soon.

And yet, 2020 ended on a bright note in the form of a vaccine.

Hope in a jar, or vial, if you will. With unprecedented speed and support, the COVID-19 vaccines are proof of determined perseverance in the fight against this humbling virus. It has been and will continue to be a global effort to protect human life, but the arrival of vaccines is a testament to the incomparable potential of a common goal.

There is a great power in coordinated flame.

I am reminded of the Robert Frost’s poem, “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening”.

“…The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep”.

We will cautiously emerge from 2020 into the new year, knowing we have miles to go before we sleep. I have hope, the light will find us again. There is promise in the fresh snow.

Marny Stebbins lives in Stillwater with her husband and four children. She is a staunch believer in early bedtimes, caffeine enhancement and humor therapy.

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