By Alexandra La Guardia
2020 was the year when the unimaginable happened and the year when nothing seemed to happen at all. The pandemic changed our lives completely, and yet we quickly adapted to the ‘new normal’. For many, the overall sense is that this year felt pointless, motionless. Covid started and life was put on pause.
It would be insensitive and wrong to say that 2020 was a good year for the world. 1.84 million people have died, and that number will have risen by the time I finish writing this. Hundreds of thousands in the UK alone have lost their jobs. Domestic violence, inequality, and mental health problems are just a few of the negative consequences of the pandemic.
Everyone is ready to put 2020 behind them. Rightly so. But there is also good reason to reflect on this past year. As plans were turned upside down, we were challenged to think in creative ways. Time normally spent commuting, seeing friends at the pub, or travelling, was suddenly there for us to use in different ways. Students who barely knew how to flip an egg discovered their calling as cooks, Strava replaced Instagram, and books which had been gathering dust for years were plucked off the shelf. And there was also time for a little silence. Time to take a breather from the busyness of life. Early-morning walks (and the occasional lie-in) replaced the early-morning rush, and on one late-night stroll, I saw a fox standing on the roof of a car looking like he owned the street.
I realise that this paints a grey-tinged year in a rosier light than it might deserve. These little pleasures do not outweigh the difficult times that came with the virus. But while it’s perhaps a cliche, the hardest moments are often the ones which really help you to grow. The challenge of learning to live alone leads to increased independence, while living in a house full of people can make you a more patient person. Being forced to behave in a different way than we’re used to – no pubs, no hugs – can help us to think about what really makes us happy, what we can do without, and what we miss the most when we don’t have it.
2020 made us appreciate the things we took for granted: a group of over six sitting inside on a cold night, walking into Sainsbury’s without a queue circling the block, shaking hands instead of bumping elbows, not being glared at when you cough after swallowing water the wrong way. It even makes us appreciate the things we didn’t think would be missed: waking up for lectures, spending the day in the library, airplane food, night clubs.
And while the pandemic holds the 2020 spotlight, other historical events make this year worth remembering. In February, Harvey Weinstein was convicted for rape and sexual assault. The global Black Lives Matter movement dominated the summer, forcing countries to look at their colonial past and present-day racism. Joe Biden became president-elect, with Kamala Harris as the first female, Black and South Asian vice president-elect. And the fires that blazed through Australia and the West Coast were a wake-up call to the threat of climate change.
2021 will not see immediate change; in fact, it looks pretty bleak. New year, new covid variant, it seems. As vaccines are being rolled out, so are restrictions. But as spring comes, things will begin to go back to normal. Only it will once again be a ‘new normal’. One in which, hopefully, we appreciate friends, concerts, parties, art galleries more than ever before, and remember that happiness can be found in the simplest things, like a good walk on a sunny day.
2020 proved to what extent the world is interconnected, and that societies can change drastically in response to a global crisis. So let’s hope the world can finally come together to fight that other global crisis, climate change. And maybe we can do it without furlough and face masks.
Photo is author’s own.