I still remember looking forward to 2020. The year prior, 2019, had brought with it a number of sad days: a murderous attack on two mosques in Christchurch, the burning of the Notre Dame Cathedral, a racist terrorist rampage in an El Paso Wal-Mart, a devastatingly busy hurricane season. The U.S. government had just shut down due to political infighting, and it seemed that the whole world was, quite literally, burning.
New years always bring renewed hope and an optimism that a rolling over of the odometer will come with positive changes. My, if we only knew now what we knew then. The phrase “hindsight is 20/20” now as an entirely new interpretation.
Undeniably the biggest story of the year – perhaps of this generation – has been the coronavirus and its impact on our world. First diagnosed in China on the last day of 2019, this virus quickly ravaged the city of Wuhan, leading to a government-ordered lockdown and quarantine of the entire city of 11 million people. The U.S. saw its first diagnosed case on January 21st, and by mid-February, the virus had spread widely in Europe and was ravaging Italy.
The first fatality in the United States was initially reported to have occurred on February 29th, but later diagnoses revealed that there had been two earlier deaths, the first occurring as early as February 6th. By that time, the virus had already taken thousands of lives worldwide.
When reports surfaced in the first week of March of that first U.S. fatality, things happened very quickly after that. The stock market took a huge dive, shedding all of its gains from several years prior in just a matter of weeks. The U.S. government announced travel restrictions, though this unfortunately happened far too late to contain the spread of the virus. Most schools were closed, and many businesses were either significantly restricted or barred from opening entirely.
When all of this happened, we were actually on a brief vacation. When the first of the international travel restrictions began, we were in Las Vegas at a karate tournament, and the week after that was spring break at our kids’ schools. I remember sitting in our little cabin while on vacation watching news reports of coronavirus cases jumping, and the multiple stoppages of trading on the stock market due to the panicked selloff. With my job, I usually fly at least 1-2 times per month, but that Las Vegas trip in February was the last time I even set foot in an airport in 2020.
Before the end of March, the entire nation was in a frenzy. Panicking buyers quickly grabbed up most of the nonperishable goods from grocery stores, and somehow toilet paper became the hottest and rarest commodity. A shortage of goods led to long lines, frustrated shoppers, and more than a few fistfights. The newest mandatory fashion accessory became the facial mask, and the phrase social distancing quickly became part of our daily vernacular. Restaurants forced to close their dining rooms pivoted to takeout and delivery, and most schools went to an online-only format. Zoom quickly became the de facto standard for communicating with those outside one’s own household. Even our karate studio changed to a Facebook Live format to allow us to continue to train.
The virus raged on for the entire year. While many of us took it seriously and radically changed our lifestyle, many more people ignored the danger and continued life as normal. Some businesses continued to operate outside of government mandates, and a lot of simple-minded and selfish people continued to go into stores and other establishments without masks in spite of requirements by those establishments to wear masks. This was the part of the whole thing that was simply unfathomable. While the virus killed thousands of people per day, people jerks would barge into private business, ignoring the government and private-property mandates for mask wearing, claiming, “I have rights!”. Yes, they do have rights, but the moment they step onto private property, they are bound by both the law and by the demands of that property owner. I could rant about this part alone for the rest of this post, but suffice it to say that I have no quarter for those maskholes who brazenly endanger others and themselves simply to assert what they believe is their right to not wear a mask while on private property owned by someone else.
By the end of the year, the coronavirus had taken from us nearly 2 million fellow humans, and around 350,000 Americans. At the worst of it, the U.S. daily death toll was north of 3,000 souls, equivalent to the number of lives lost every single day. Many more who survived it were left with lingering physical and financial burdens. The economic toll is significant as well, with tens of thousands of businesses closing for good and an untold number suffering great economic loss. The total cost of this disaster is inestimable.
The Lost Year
For many, 2020 is the year of having lost something. So many of our fellow humans have lost people they loved. Still more lost a part of their health, at least temporarily. Many lost their jobs, and some lost entire businesses.
My family was one of the lucky ones. None of us got sick (with Covid-19 or anything else), we weren’t negatively impacted financially, and we were able to continue many of the things we take for granted, including work, school, and even a vacation getaway (albeit brief and very different from any other holiday we’ve taken). Though we’ve made sacrifices, I am well aware that any inconvenience we’ve suffered this year is minuscule in comparison to what many have lost.
That said, I expect we can all agree that 2020 will be remembered as the lost year. Personally and professionally, I had some specific plans that had to be put on hold due to the state of the world. It feels like I’ve lost a lot of the personal connection with family, friend, and colleagues. We lost out on our usual big family gatherings at Thanksgiving and Christmas (some of our family did still get together, but we opted not to participate in the interest of keeping everyone healthy).
Some of the loss is harder to measure. The combination of isolation, financial uncertainty, and worries over catching the virus can wreck one’s emotional well-being. Adding to this stress is the social unrest, the political turmoil of a contentious election year, a juvenile President who cares more about revenge than actually leading through this crisis, and the resulting friction with friends and family (since I lean left in a hard-right state, I get to experience a lot of the latter firsthand). This past year I, like many others, have felt the burden from these and other emotional pressures. If you feel like this year has been a wild emotional ride, you’re not alone.
The world also lost some significant public figures. Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, civil rights icon John Lewis, aviation pioneer Chuck Yeager, and mathematician and NASA veteran Katherine Johnson all passed away this year. Also included in this list are celebrity figures Alex Trebek, Sean Connery, Eddie Van Halen, Kelly Preston, and Chadwick Boseman (who was only 43), country crooner Kenny Rogers (one of my childhood favorites), and basketball legend Kobe Bryant.
For me and my family, this experience has had its high points. We’ve learned to be more accommodating to each other while we’re mostly stuck indoors for days on end. My kids have adapted to a new way of learning through online education, which will help them in their collegiate years and professional careers. We’ve had many more family game nights and movie nights than we used to. We introduced the kids to the joys of indoor camping, and we all rediscovered the joy of sitting around the backyard fire, each reading our own books and silently enjoying each others’ company.
On the horizon
While 2020 was The Lost Year, things can and will get better. There are two different vaccines being rolled out in the U.S. now, with several more in development. Many businesses have found ways to adapt to this temporary new normal. Here in the States, Inauguration Day is just 20 days away, which will usher in an experienced, competent, and compassionate President to help lead us through this crisis. Just as importantly, many of us have learned lessons on how to adapt our own lives to not just protect ourselves but to ensure the health of fellow citizens of the earth.