I’ll always remember the summer of 2020 as the summer I became an adult. I was soon to turn 18 and vote in my first election, but I was forced into adulthood months before I would register to vote. But I think the whole world was forced to grow up.
All of a sudden we were all forced to drop our lives, and all of a sudden, life changed. All of a sudden we were forced into hard conversations about our political beliefs when we couldn’t ignore the violence and hardship in our own cities. But what started as a response to injustice became a “political issue.”
All of a sudden we were forced to respond to a pandemic we knew nothing about. But what started as a means of protecting yourself and others in the midst of a global pandemic became a “political issue.” So what was a standard practice at the start of the summer of 2020 was your political affiliation written on your face by the end.
I remember what it was like to walk through the halls at school or into work without knowing every single person’s political leaning and taking that into account in conversations.
The summer of 2020 also broke my heart. It broke my heart to hear nothing from some people I love when innocent lives were lost and then outrage when windows were broken. I cried every time I had to argue with an extended family member or friend over what seemed to “naive” me were simple human rights.
It broke my heart to go on to social media every day to see people trying so hard to disagree with people asking for not much more than basic respect.
That’s the thing that was the most frustrating: people going out of their way to be ignorant. Going out of their way not to wear a mask for one minute while ordering coffee. Going out of their way to deny their own privilege.
I’ll never forget my first shift after the mask mandate had been passed. It was 6 a.m. when my first regular came in who refused to wear a mask. I am a very hot-headed person, so I was surprised by the overwhelming feeling that came upon me: it wasn’t anger; it was sadness.
Here was this person who had made me smile every morning this summer –who I saw as such a good person– who is now making a huge deal out of such a simple action that is meant to protect me. This moment, and the many just like it I experienced after, felt like a crossroads of everything I believed. Can I still see this person as a good person anymore? I genuinely want to believe the best in everyone, but I can’t deny the actions or words right in front of me that say the opposite. This question got more and more complicated and saddening for me the closer someone was to me.
I still struggle with this question for a lot more people than just the regulars at my workplace, but what I do know is two things: 1. There is a difference between difference of opinion and someone being racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, or downright ignorant. 2. I would not be the person I am today if I dropped every friend who disagreed with me.
In 2020 I learned the importance of using my voice, but in 2021 I’ve started to learn to stay quiet. I’ve learned not to go out of my way to seek out others to disagree with, in the same way I condemn them for going out of their way to push their beliefs. I’ve learned that my first priority will always be to do what’s right, but next will be to love others, regardless of whether or not they deserve it.