It is that time of year that asks us to look backward and forward at the same time. And while looking backward is not something I would regularly recommend, the year 2020 demands it.

We have all heard versions of the same sentiment, whether from people within earshot at the grocery store, at church, or anywhere else you’re lucky enough to find people these days: Thank God 2020 is almost over. Similarly, almost all of them appear remarkably optimistic about the better prospects of 2021.

Frankly, I don’t understand the conventional wisdom that next year will necessarily be any better. It reminds me of the saying about the difference between an Irish pessimist and an Irish optimist: The Irish pessimist sadly states that things just can’t get worse, whereas the Irish optimist happily assures him that yes, they can!

No one can predict the future. If someone could have, they should have made a fortune betting that a former reality TV host would become president of the United States. Fortune-telling is dicey business.

So I will look backward, but only for a point of reference. It’s never good to dwell on bad times, but neither is it good to stay locked in the memories of better times. Needless to say, I doubt many people will be tempted to do the latter when they think of 2020.

This was the year I learned to be grateful for the Mass. You do not know how much you cherish something you have until it’s taken away from you. I will never take it lightly again, so thank you, 2020.

Now this may sound crazy — and it may be a symptom of some kind of “2020 Derangement Syndrome” that will appear in a future issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association — but I have liked being in close quarters with my adult children. It hasn’t always been easy, and I haven’t always been the most patient and understanding parent, but that’s what the sacrament of reconciliation is for, and access to that particular sacrament is another thing I am truly more appreciative of — thanks again, 2020.

The year 2020 is also the year my 2-year-old grandson came to live with us. How long he will be with us I do not know, but I try to cherish every moment I can with him, even when he’s having a 2-year-old moment, or he continues to toss rocks into my outdoor water garden. All that seems a small price of admission for getting to read to him at night and feeling him slip off to dreamland (while I do so, too).

I’m thankful in general to the catastrophe that has been 2020 for the amount of time it has provided me for self-reflection and the challenges to my faith that it posed. There may not be any atheists in foxholes, but there really is no room for lukewarm Catholicism in the heat of a pandemic that, at one time, shut us all out from the sacraments, including the anointing of the sick — a particularly cruel irony, when you think about it. 

My addiction to watching sports on television has also been substantially curtailed, thanks to the ramifications of COVID-19. I’m not totally “clean,” as a family of devoted Dodgers fans who had been waiting (in the case of all my children, their entire lives) for a return to championship form, indulged in a lot of postseason television watching.

But even though both college and professional football have pulled off seasons in one form or another, and there has been plenty to watch on TV, it somehow doesn’t resonate with me like it used to. That’s probably another good thing I owe to 2020.

So, as I look back, for hopefully the last time, the most brilliant thought I can come up with is that life is good, but that sometimes life can also be hard at the same time. My family has been blessed with generally good health, and if that situation ever changes, we will hopefully have the grace to see such a cross as a way of honoring God.

And finally, I am thankful for the sense of calm I have, even though so much around me isn’t so calm. I have my moments — we all do — but overall, this year has served as a fairly good tuneup for me and my faith journey. But alas, it is a journey that keeps going, and detours and potholes await just over the next hill.

As the year 2020 sinks into the sunset, I pray for patience and courage and for all who are suffering. And 2021, show us what you got.