Who would have thought, on Jan. 1, 2020, that the world would look like this on Dec. 31, 2020?
Masked, isolated, separated, and searching for the elusive “new normal.” Kids and parents working and schooling from home, and all of them wondering why the idea of an open concept home was ever appealing. Schools sanitized yet many empty; parents fearful of sending their child healthy and returning home with an unseen virus capable of killing an entire family.
Signs and placards everywhere, reminding us of the elementary-school rule about washing your hands and covering that cough and sneeze. Realizing that there’s nothing social about social distancing. Thinking that maybe you don’t hate your Uncle Harry that much anymore, his bourbon breath and bad jokes aside, because you miss just having him around.
Friends and neighbors without jobs, surviving on slim margin of help from state unemployment — if they could get through the red tape to apply. Local businesses busted and storefronts empty, with “Temporarily Closed” signs on the doors, but the dusty and dilapidated look of these places dispels any notion that they’re ever coming back.
Hungry people who lined up waiting for hours in food distribution lines for a week’s supply of groceries or a few hot meals. People who never had to ask for help until now, ashamed to do so and yet afraid of the empty refrigerator, bare pantry, and children who asked why they couldn’t just go to the grocery store like before.
We saw the hospitalization, mortality, and infection statistics; mere numbers until you see the people behind those numbers: the parents, grandparents, children, teachers, coaches, preachers, and perhaps worst of all, the doctors and nurses who fought for us, only to get sick and die themselves, fighting to the end.
We got angry at the cov-idiots and mask-holes, the personal freedom-fueled fanatics who considered safety precautions as an affront to their pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness, rather than as a means to protect everyone. Because the virus is everyone’s fight. A virus does not care who you are, what you believe or what you’re willing to live or die for. If you’re insist on being vulnerable, step up to the infection soapbox.
We are in the process of learning why Black Lives Matter. Not because they didn’t before 2020, but because this year gave us several senseless deaths that brought multitudes into the streets, shouting that it’s been too long waiting for change. The pandemic and Black Lives Matter came together because we were mostly at home, focused on the news for lack of much else to do, and the shooting deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and almost 200 other Black men and women this year alone were brought right to our digital doorstep. That they were doing nothing to deserve this kind of death only highlights this country’s racial disparity.
We also saw a lot of good things. From those who donated their stimulus checks to charity, the #TakeOutTuesday in support of local restaurants, people connecting through online video platforms, neighbors cooking for neighbors and strangers, the comeback of board games, vinyl records and the increase in streaming services, the discovery that fresh air and outdoor exercise really is good for you and that life’s big moments don’t need fancy decor and a large guest list to be creatively celebrated — these are the positives to be proud of in 2020. And the greatest positive: it comes in the form of a little glass vial, complete with syringe, and while the vaccine alone won’t save us from ourselves, it offers more than hope in a bottle. It represents science, not politics or conspiracy theories, as the path to pulling out of the acrimonious and antagonistic asylum that was 2020.