Farewell, 2020. So long, aloha, adios, auf Wiedersehen, au revoir, sayonara, buh-bye and good riddance! Don’t let the door hit you on your way out.
To paraphrase Charles Dickens: “It was the worst of times; it was really the worst of times.” Seriously.
Remember how bad 2016 felt? The yearlong slog of a presidential campaign in which many people saw no good choices, and it still disappointed? Remember how it began with the death of David Bowie, followed by Nancy Reagan, just kept getting worse, with Prince, Muhammad Ali, Gene Wilder, Arnold Palmer and Leonard Cohen, among others, and peaking with George Michael, Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds in the last week of the year? Remember the zika virus? The racial unrest over Black men and women being killed by police (263 of them, according to Mapping Police Violence)? The Pulse massacre in Orlando? Brexit?
Well, this year was worse.
We had the same yearlong election slog, and even now that the judges, officials and Electoral College have weighed in, many people are still fighting the result, with no actual evidence to back them.
And that was in addition to the antics and dysfunction we’ve become used to in Washington over the past four years. Remember, the president of the United States actually got impeached back in January. And that’s barely memorable, this year got so much worse.
No Boston sports teams even came close to winning a championship. Unthinkable!
And how about those murder hornets? They were actually overhyped, at least so far, but for a while, they loomed as a big threat. Kinda like quicksand.
Racial unrest? 2016 was just a warm-up. The murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May by four police officers, caught on video, ramped the Black Lives Matter movement to new heights. And as protests for racial justice spread across the nation, attention was drawn to other cases — Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, to name two — that made clear the need for action. But not all of the action was positive. In several cities, knuckleheads used the protests as an excuse to riot and loot, detracting from the needed message. Worse, that itself drew others to join in, culminating in the shooting deaths of three Black men by a 17-year-old, self-appointed vigilante in Milwaukee, who’s now selling souvenirs to his admirers.
All that took a back seat — by a long shot — to the pandemic. What began as reports of a virus in China that were ignored by many Americans, including, sadly, the president, almost overnight became a shutdown of our nation’s economy in March, with schools, businesses, travel, sports and more closing abruptly. Those businesses that did continue relied heavily on reduced staff or remote work. Unemployment soared.
All of which paled compared to the human toll. So far, more than 350,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus, and roughly 1.8 million worldwide. There have been 82 million cases thus far. Many of the deaths have occurred among the elderly, particularly in nursing homes, where patients have gotten sick and died in isolation, unable to even be comforted by their loved ones.
The pandemic has also taken an emotional toll. Depression and other maladies have been widespread among students unable to attend school in person, workers unable to do their jobs, and others unable to seek even modest social interaction. Social distancing and wearing masks has become yet another dividing line among factions of Americans.
It’s been downright ugly the whole year through.
And yet … even the worst of times can’t be all bad. Thus was the case in 2020.
The racial protests, though we’d hope they weren’t necessary at this point, produced real initiatives and soul-searching in many places, including New Hampshire, where Gov. Sununu appointed a task force to study racial justice and has already begun implementing some of the recommendations.
The yearlong campaign slog brought about a needed change at the top, and with it, perhaps a return to sanity, measure and grace.
The pandemic forced many of us out of our comfort zones and became the necessity that mothered invention. Distance learning and remote applications became commonplace, as schools and companies learned how to do things in new, safer ways.
Scientists and researchers, placed under the gun by a widening imminent global threat and cleared from the usual bureaucratic red tape, created workable vaccines in record time.
Medical workers, first responders, teachers, aides, postal and delivery workers, grocery and restaurant staff and others deemed “essential” to the continuation of life in America rose to the challenge, often putting themselves in danger by doing so.
And even those who stayed home may have discovered new joys — walking or biking; meeting (at a distance) neighbors they’d rarely spoken to; spending more time with their kids or spouses; picking up new hobbies such as gardening or learning an instrument.
There’s always a bright side if you look hard enough.
To return to Dickens’ famous opening of “A Tale of Two Cities,” sometimes the worst of times can also be the best of times, or at the very least, bring out the best in us.