2020 Should Stay With Us

January 5, 2021 at 9:20 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , )

One of my friends ritualistically burned pages of a 2020 calendar this New Year’s Eve.  I’ve read about other people reciting everything that had gone wrong before the stroke of midnight or cursing 2020 on its way out the door.  The overall vibe was that 2020 was over—and with it all the sadness of the past months.  Out with old, and in the new!

I’m trying a different strategy.  I’m remembering 2020.

There’s no doubt that 2020 was a terrible year.  Over 350,000 Americans died of Covid-19.  1.85 million worldwide lost their lives to it.  The economic fallout has been disastrous too.  13 percent of Americans recently reported that they couldn’t put enough food on the table for their families, and 1 in 5 renters are behind on housing payments.  The pandemic acted like an x-ray machine, scanning our society and illuminating the fractures that were there all the time—the inequities of our healthcare system, the decades of undermining public health infrastructure, the precariousness of American workers, our political polarization.

2020 was a hard year for me personally.  I’m into my sixth long month of living separately from Jay and Andrew because of my Covid risks.  Even though my sarcoidosis was mercifully less vicious this past year, the Covid X-ray machine illuminated fault lines in my own life.  As much as I don’t like being perceived as such, the reality is that I am still fragile.  I try and remain grateful that my family has the resources to pay for extra housing for me.  While millions of others are in danger of losing their homes, I’ve been able to isolate myself.  I’ve been as physically safe as I can keep myself.  But I can’t put my thoughts and feelings into the equivalent of an N-95.  I’ve been lonely.  I’ve been scared.  I’ve spiraled into anxious dark places many nights, and haven’t been able to roll over and poke Jay awake as I once did to have him reassure me that the worst won’t come true.  I’ve been changed. 

I’m old enough to have lived through a thing or two.  I’ve learned that aggressively forgetting something never works as a long-term solution.  Believe me, I’ve tried.  I’ve spat at years as the calendar changed over, telling myself this would be the year that I would stop being sick, start losing weight, stay out of hospitals, etc., etc.  Sometimes, just weeks later, I’d be back in the hospital, gaining more weight, still sick.  Diseases don’t need paperwork to keep infecting in the New Year. 

As hard as 2020 was on me, I don’t want to forget it, even if I could.  I am a different woman than the one who moved into this apartment with two suitcases and eyes backed up with unshed tears in July.  I’ve learned that I believe my life is worth saving, even if it’s inconvenient and painful—and I’ve acted on it.  I’ve learned that I can pull myself out of what I once thought was infinite darkness.  It turns out that even darkness is finite.  I can’t wait to be back home, someday, hopefully soon.  But I won’t pretend that I never left.

I also won’t forget the mortal fear that I’ve lived with—fear made worse by selfish idiots from the President on down, who refused to wear masks or to abide by even the most basic public health precautions.  I will remember the businesses that flouted the laws and endangered their customers.  I’ve taken note of people on social media who have spread misinformation and dangerous lies. 

More importantly, I won’t forget the 350,000 who perished needlessly in 2020.  There were no national or statewide mourning rituals for them.  They died alone, and it feels like not many people beyond their family care to remember them.  We had no moments of silence or ringing of church bells, just a daily growing count of the dead that many didn’t bother even to look at.  I also want to remember the vision of our society that the Covid the X-ray machine showed us all.  People with less than $500 in savings suddenly without jobs.  Children without access to technology trying to “learn from home.”  Families going hungry.  Millions more Americans losing their healthcare because they lost their jobs.  Prisoners helpless as Covid ripped through their confinement.  The elderly left without hope or visitors for months, while contagion stalked their nursing homes.  Doctors and nurses working endless shifts while pleading for their neighbors to wear masks and stay home for the holidays.  And meanwhile, the billionaires got richer, Wall Street is doing great and it’s a new year.

We’ll be dealing with the fallout from 2020 for a generation.  I’m going to try and remember it all, even when it hurts and takes me back to a time I’d rather forget.  We owe it to those who died.  We owe it to those who are hungry.  We owe it to each other.   It’s not just memory for memory’s sake, though as a historian I think that’s important.  If we accept the transformative powers of this year, we can work—together—on repairing all those fractures. 

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