In 1992, Queen Elizabeth of England described her year as an Annus Horribilis after the collapse of the marriages of three of her children including Prince Charles and Lady Diana and a terrible fire that swept Windsor Castle. I have never forgotten that phrase and I have heard it since referred to 2020. As Alan and I have walked around our neighborhoods we have noticed so many have already put up their Christmas decorations earlier than normal as if to rush this year out as quickly as possible.
It is true that the pandemic, the violence across the country, the political divisions have been challenging. However, for me, 2020 has been a remarkable year filled with wonderful things for which I am grateful. As I look back on my life, I have noticed key points at which I have taken a leap forward in some way: physically, emotionally, and/or spiritually. Above all, these key times of transition have been opportunities for self-revelation or self-discovery. How was my life changing? Do I need to change anything about myself to adjust to the changing circumstances? Sometimes, these moments would challenge my very beliefs about who I am and often I needed to reconfirm my foundational principles.
Baptism into the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, serving a mission, getting married, having each of my children, moving house umpteen times, working for the government, starting my own business, losing 80 lbs. in weight, buying my own home, getting a divorce, moving to Paris, losing my father, becoming a grandmother, getting re-married and moving to the USA have all impacted who I have become and frankly who I am still becoming. It’s almost exhausting looking at this list.
2020 has been one of those pivotal years and as with other times, I am incredibly grateful for the insights that I have received as a result. It is amazing what a stretch of solitude can do for the soul. It was at the end of 2019 that I received the overwhelming news that I had cancer. After a slow start where I put my head into the sand or just put one foot in front of the other, I have taken this time to reflect on who I am and what is most important to me.
Alan talks a lot about paradox, holding two seemingly contradictory concepts in your hands at the same time. This year has been full of paradoxes. I have been forced to face one of the greatest fears of my life, my fear of death and in so doing I have become more alive than ever before. That’s quite the paradox. There are other examples. I have witnessed incredible vitriol and angst on social media in the political sphere and yet over time it has brought me to a depth of peace that I have not known prior to this. I have dug deep within myself to question what is most important to me and I am learning (still a work in progress) to not get drawn into the emotion of it all. Amid the angst, I have looked inward and asked myself “What are my beliefs? Where do I fit in this society? How can I best contribute to my new country?” I don’t have all the answers yet about my contribution, but I have come to be at peace about the beliefs that drive my life.
Who would have guessed that being confronted with cancer would be accompanied by a world-wide pandemic? This has been an odd blessing that I am in isolation because of my cancer treatment at the same time as all of society has largely been in shut down mode simultaneously. Alan and I have been blessed with the resources to economically survive the year, for which we are incredibly grateful, so that left us with what to do with this change in circumstances. For years I have lived a highly active life with little time to myself and certainly little time to do things like read. This past year I have developed a real hunger to learn more about almost everything and I have more time to fill that hunger. I have dug deep into the scriptures, I read novels, I engaged in historical and political research and I have read self-improvement books to educate myself on the latest theories. I am finally finding the time to fulfill a life-time’s dream to write books (yes, plural). It is a real pleasure to be writing one with my husband on a topic we have been exploring since shortly after we married. It is a whole new world opening because we have been given this unique opportunity to stop and reflect.
I like this paradox, that being faced with death means that every day is a bonus and an opportunity to get excited by something. It means that I have more emphasis on doing things that are truly a priority for me. This has heightened my sense of planning. It was my previous habit to just get on with the day and move as fast as I could to complete what I saw as the tasks that needed doing, almost in remote mode. Now, after “feasting on my scriptures” (something which I am adoring more than ever), I ask the Lord in prayer, “What does today look like? What are my priorities for today?” I remember a conference talk given by apostle Dallin H Oaks of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He said,
“We have to forego some good things in order to choose others that are better or best because they develop faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and strengthen our families.”
That is the question that I start every day asking myself. What is the best thing that I can do today? It has made a huge difference to how my day unfolds. I start with the most important item on my list and work my way back to the least important item.
This brings me to the most important lesson of 2020 of all, and one that I understood before, but I needed a reminder. This life is not just about surviving and plodding through the days. For me that is not enough. I believe that I have a purpose on this earth, a mission to fulfill and all my decisions need to make sure that my mission is front and center in my life. I still take care of the day to day things. I still help clean our house, cook meals, make our bed, file our financial records, but these things are no longer distractions from my focus on my mission. I am constantly asking myself, “How am I moving my mission forward today?” This has increased the focus of my prayers and my planning sessions with my sweetheart. My life has become exhilarating with no end in sight of fulfilling things to complete. What a blessing from stopping a while and reflecting! 2020 is not my annus horribilis, it is my annus mirabilis, my wonderful year.
We'd like to thank Marianne Downing for contributing this article to Discover Identity.