Ramon Presson

Last week I went to the customer service desk of a local department store and said to the clerk, “I’d like to return 2020. It’s not working.”

“What seems to be the problem?” the woman asked.

“Well, it started having problems around late February and it’s just been getting worse since then. It’s only July and it’s already totally shot.”

“We’ve been getting a lot of complaints about this one,” she said. “I can’t give you a refund, but you can exchange it for a previous year. Would you like to know what’s available?”

“Absolutely. Anything has to be better than 2020.”

“Okay, let me see what I have…how about 1979?”

“What? No, that was not a good year. The energy crisis and the gas shortage meant long lines at the pumps. The economy was bad, inflation was high. And there was the Iran hostage crisis. No, I don’t want 1979. You gotta have a better year than that?”

“I’ve got 1930.”

“Are you serious? We were in the midst of the Great Depression, and mobsters like Al Capone were running several of the major cities.”

“Okay, fine. I’ve got something earlier—1914.”

“That’s the year that World War I began. My gosh, no!  Give me a good year, a good decade.”

“Alright, let’s flip the last two digits—1941. 1941 is available.”

“Well, of course it’s available. Because nobody would want that year. Pearl Harbor was bombed in December.”

“So, the year didn’t end so well but you’d also have the 11 months prior.”

“Are you out of your mind? Maybe the first part of the year wasn’t terrible for Americans but the globe was in the midst of its second world war and Hitler’s evil campaign. The Holocaust really began in 1941.  Why would you offer me anything in the early 40’s?  Do you not know anything about history?”

“Well, you certainly seem to know your history. Okay, let’s see…you can have 2001. An exciting new century still getting broken in good.”

“Seriously? 2001?  Does 9/11 ring a bell?  Planes hijacked. The twin towers, the Pentagon…that’s one of the worst years in American history.”

“Alright, we can go to a different century. I’ve got 1864 in the back I can bring out.”

“1864?? You think I’d want to live during the middle of the Civil War? No, definitely not 1880’s anything. What do you have from the 1700’s?”

“How would you like to be in France in the 1700s, monsieur?”

“That sounds intriguing. Tell me more.”

“I can put you in the heart of Paris in 1793. French art and literature, fine cuisine, romance and culture.”

“That sounds tres magnifique. Wait, 1793….that was…that was the most violent year of the French Revolution, 10 months known as the Reign of Terror.  Thousands went to the guillotine.  You’re a demented person to offer me Paris at that time.”

“And you’re hard to please. I’m running out of patience, and I’m running out of available years.”

“How can you be running out of years? There’s thousands of years on file to choose from. Actually more than thousands, but I’m not looking to go pre-historic here. And nothing BC either.”

“Sir, do you think you’re the first person in here this summer wanting to exchange their 2020? I’m sorry, if our inventory is a little picked over but we’ve been pretty busy here since March.”

“Okay, I’m sorry. What else do you have?”

“1349.”

“The bubonic plague, the Black Death, the deadliest pandemic in recorded human history. It killed half the population of Europe!”

“1520.”

“Of course not. Smallpox ravaged the Americas in 1520 and killed between 60 and 90 percent of the continents’ original inhabitants.”

“1918.” 

“God, no.  That year the Spanish Flu killed 50 million people. And World War I wasn’t even over yet. I bet you can’t offer me anything worse than that year.”

“567.”

“What about it?”

“You want a worse year? 567 is yours.”

“No, I don’t want a worse year or the worst year. But what about 567 made it so terrible.”

“Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Asia were plunged into a year of solid darkness by a mysterious fog. Turns out it was caused by a massive volcanic eruption in Iceland that created a huge cloud of ash that hovered over most of the northern hemisphere.”

“Okay, so it wasn’t sunny for a while. Sounds like Seattle…”

“The extreme temperature drop caused crop failure, extreme drought, famine, and disease across much of the planet. Historians say that the world did not show signs of true recovery from the disasters until around 640, some 70 years later. Many historians say that 567 was the worst year to be alive.”

“What are you getting at?”

“I’m trying to help you see that throughout history there have been many years and periods that were tragic, chaotic, and even horrific. Years that were worse than 2020 in multiple ways. I’m not minimizing how difficult this year has already been, not just for the United States, but for the entire world. And it’s been more than just COVID-19.  So much more.  But here’s the thing--I can’t tell you when it will get better. I just know that it will.”

“How can you be so sure? Do you have a crystal ball?”

“No, but a wise person once told me when I was in the midst of a crisis a few years ago, ‘Janice, apparently up to this very moment you have survived 100% of your worst days ever. Based on those stats I’d say there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll survive this one too.’ And I did. I survived the worst year of my life. And you’ll survive 2020. You will.”

“So, I can’t exchange my 2020 for a better year?”

“No, you cannot. But what you can do is do your part to make 2020 better, not just for yourself, but for others.”

“But I have a receipt,” I said with a half-laugh, pulling a random piece of paper from my pocket.

“Save it, Ramon,” she said with a wink. “You never know—the IRS might give you tax credit for a #3 Combo with fries and a Dr. Pepper.”

“Whaaa…how… how do you know my name? And how’d you know what I ate for…”

With a smile she gently pressed an index finger to her lips to silence me. Then she looked past me and said aloud, “I’ll help who’s next.” 

Ramon Presson, PhD, is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Franklin (www.ramonpressontherapy.com) and the author of several books. Reach him at [email protected]

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