“2020 has taken a lot from us, but I never expected our trees to be next.”
This thought echoed in my mind as I drove around campus following the ice storm of Oct. 27 and 28. With limbs covering the Eagle Trail and the power out across half of campus, Oklahoma Christian University looked like a scene from an apocalyptic film, made complete by the underclassmen refugees scattered across campus. The Christmas lights that were up around campus went from festive to functional overnight, being the only object holding trees together. Campus was deserted, with students holed up inside to avoid becoming a casualty of falling branches. It was, in this writer’s view, a depressing scene to behold.
As I listened to limbs falling to the ground, I became increasingly demoralized. There was such an abundance of broken tree debris outside my window that I could not even see branches fall anymore. I was just waiting for the tell-tale snap, rustle and crash. It was at this time that my roommate said wisely, “Don’t worry too much, they’ll grow back. They’re more resilient than we think.” In the moment, I waved them off as the ramblings of a chronic optimist. How could they recover when they are splintered beyond belief? But as I continued to reflect on those words, they hit closer to home than I realized.
2020 has not been a kind year to many. Economic hardships, the loss of loved ones, social injustices, the invasive anxiety caused by living through a pandemic — these are not loads that are easy to bear. Like the trees, some of us may be so burdened that we are breaking, cracking at our core. I know I am not alone when I say that every time I read the news or get another assignment or attempt to process the chaos that surrounds me, I feel my branches snapping under the weight of the world. And in my darkest moments, part of me believes that I will crumble into splinters so small all the Christmas lights in the world could not keep me tied together.
However, we are more resilient than we give ourselves credit for. Like our trees, we will heal. The ice will melt and the load will lessen. Our trees on campus will be trimmed and cleaned up. Slowly, little twigs will begin to sprout from the trunk. And as time passes, those branches will grow and strengthen until they are restored to their former glory. We will do the same. We will begin to pick ourselves up and put back together the pieces of our lives. To most of us, this year will just be another event that we lived through, lumped in with the other disastrous events of modern history.
However, we will not be as we were before. We will remember our wounds. In fact, I would argue that we should not forget them. The marching for change, the historic election, these events have presented a crossroads to all of us and are forcing us to decide who we want to be in real time. The events that have occurred over the last ten months have emphasized that identity is not a long-term concept, it is the decisions we make now that shape who we are. History remembers the events that reveal our truest selves, and this year is no exception.
Instead, we will grow. As young limbs emerge from old wounds, we will do the same. We will be shaped by these events and walk away from them changed, and how we change is up to us to decide. This year will be a testament to our resilience, adaptability and power to choose our own paths. The growth we choose to pursue following the events of 2020 will undoubtedly influence not only our future, but the futures of those behind. We are changing the world as we know it.
So as we close out the semester and limp through the rest of this year, I want you to know that though the burden is heavy, it is not the end. 2020 has taken a lot, but it will not take us. We will recover and heal. But the decisions we make in our healing are crucial, because they shape the direction of our lives and our history forever. And as we step off this campus for our break and enter the next chapter of our lives, it’s up to you to grow into the person you want to be.