We learnt as a nation that our natural environment and, thus, our livelihoods could be destroyed swiftly and comprehensively by the effects of a warming planet.

Barely were we through those fires when we faced another national challenge, one that again required us to draw strength from community networks.

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The novel coronavirus that emerged in China spread rapidly around the globe. To date, almost 80 million people have been diagnosed with the COVID-19 and more than 1.7 million have died.

Australia, for the first time in living memory, all but closed its borders to the world. States closed borders to each other. The sharemarket plunged 36 per cent in a month. Businesses shut down entirely.

And then came the lockdowns, the work-from-home edicts, the school-from-home efforts, the hand-washing and masks.

For many, that led to isolation and loneliness, unemployment and financial despair. In those dark months, we had to learn to curb our need to be social.

Many of us used that time to discover resilience, to realise we have within us the ability to endure and to adapt, to adjust our lives and our outlook despite adversity and trauma, stress and loss. We learnt new technologies, new ways of doing things, how to be patient, how to exercise in one spot, and how to find a sense of calmness despite the often alarming and seemingly endless stream of bad news.

Slowly, we are emerging into the light again. In Melbourne, picnics in the parks have become more of an occasion than we could have imagined, and thousands are reliving the simple joys of dining out. It feels that the shared experience has freshened our empathy and compassion.

Now Sydney is tamping down a coronavirus outbreak and states have once again shut borders until it is properly contained. But the authorities today are far better versed in contact-tracing and in the behaviour of the virus than they were months ago.

There is great reason to hope for better days in the new year. To be sure, the nation’s financial health has taken a pounding, as have the personal finances of many people. And the corresponding rise in anxiety and deterioration in mental health will take some time to overcome.

But COVID vaccines are beginning to be rolled out across the world. Businesses are reporting a rebound of sorts. The sharemarket is recovering. Individually, we are better for having endured and we will become stronger for it.

This period between Christmas and the new year is a good time to take stock, to consider what we have learnt this year about what is important to us. How treasured human contact proves to be when you’re deprived of it. How our relationships with family and friends are paramount. How we can be kinder to ourselves and to others.

The plans of 2020 went out the window, but for many the lessons of the year have helped reshape our goals and reminded us of the truly most important aspects of our lives. We launch into the new year with great hope and deeper perspective.

Note from the Editor

The Age’s editor, Gay Alcorn, writes an exclusive newsletter for subscribers on the week’s most important stories and issues. Sign up here to receive it every Friday.

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