Keith Lyons looks back at the challenges of 2020, and explores the expectation that lessons learnt will translate into action in 2021.
‘Hope comes in strange shapes, when you don’t expect it’
There are two things we all need going into the new year 2021, one is the temporary painful prick of a needle where your arm meets your shoulder, the other is an optimistic state of mind expecting and wanting things to change for the better.
Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, the year 2020 seemed far away.
Yet it held so much promise.
That future date, boosted by science and technology, would usher in a high-tech world of chatty robot servants, human jetpack suits and anti-gravity flying cars. By 2020, I had somehow come to believe the notion that telepathy would be the main form of communication, and that books and newspapers would be a thing of the past. I might even get bored by the slowness of personal jetpacks, so would (naturally) prefer teleportation.
By the year 2020, nobody would have to work, everyone would have so much leisure time, and life expectancy would be over 100, I surmised from young adult sci-fi books from the library and Popular Science magazines.
So how did 2020 work out for me?
Probably pretty much the same way it worked out for you.
The year 2020 proved to be a big year, or as President Trump said ‘bigly’ — or was it is really ‘big league’.
Either ways, the year brought together the world’s 7.6 billion human inhabitants and also kept us apart. Not since the Second World War has the entire globe’s population been so affected by a global event: a pandemic.
The actual coronavirus, also variously known as ‘the China Virus’, ‘the ‘Rona’, ‘the boomer remover’ so tiny and small it can’t be seen with the naked eye. It is way smaller than a single red or white blood cell. But like a mosquito in a room with an elephant, coronavirus has been the main irritant as it has spread beyond Wuhan to our communities, aged-care facilities, hospitals, and loved ones. Only a few remote spots on Earth have so far evaded COVID.
The virus, which is new on the scene having probably come from bats in a Yunnan cave via the Chinese live animal trade network, is not just extremely infectious and contagious in its transmission from human-to-human, but its fatality rate is much, much higher than influenza, possibly as high as 3%.
With only 13 months of study into the impact and quirks of this new virus, it is still too early to know the extent of the havoc coronavirus causes, but already we are seeing not just many deaths (coming up to 2 million worldwide), but also far-reaching consequences for those that get it and those working to treat the afflicted. Already there’s talk of ‘Long COVID’, with the effects of the virus lingering for months beyond the initial illness. While in late 2020 several fast-tracked vaccines were released for general use, there is still no cure with no drugs proven to treat or prevent coronavirus.
You don’t need me to tell you this, but for most people, the universal experience of the pandemic has meant 2020 has been dubbed ‘a roller coaster’ by many, others preferring the oft-used ‘unprecedented’, while some call it like it is — ‘dumpster fire’. Amid the fear and the losses, we have all asked ourselves some serious questions about our life and the meaning of life itself.
“Most of all, perhaps, it is the year of not knowing,” wrote J.M. Berger in The Atlantic. These were the questions he brought up. Is it safe to send my kids to school? Can I go to the store? Do I still have to wipe down the mail? The quandary for many in 2020 included ‘is it safe to go to work’ (do I still have a job?), ‘is it safe to exercise’, and ‘can I trust the government/public health officials’?
I’ve got to confess, even though at the start of 2020 I was travelling in India, Thailand, Myanmar and Indonesia, by mid-February, I arrived in my homeland of New Zealand. The following month we were put under lockdown which lasted five to seven weeks, effectively ‘flattening the curve’ and eliminating the virus from community transmission. I am one of the few people to watch the movie Tenet in a movie theatre surrounded by other audience members. Over 2020, and into the first week of 2021 with the attempted coup by Trump, watching the news has been surreal and disturbing.
As we tend to do, the year-end is a time for reflection on the past 12 months, and a looking forward to the new year. But it is safe to say that few people have had a stellar 2020, with most wanting to get it over with and welcome in 2021. There’s been an interesting reaction I have noticed among some, who somehow thought that if we just make it to 31 December 2020, everything will be alright. As if the bad things from 2020 will not carry over. Yet it did.
We go into the new year with rising infection rates from the pandemic, many countries clocking up record days for infections and deaths. Let’s not forget the backdrop of economic crisis and of course, climate change. And on top of that the technical problems for the first-time users of Zoom.
There are two important ideas that many are carrying into the New Year. The first is a technical solution to our problem, a vaccine which will not only possibly prevent individuals from getting the infection, but also lead to more immunity in our communities.
Actually, there’s more than one vaccine, with around 50 vaccines currently in trails, and some have already rolled out since December. The aim is for 70% of populations to be vaccinated to stop the pandemic. Already some 24 million shots have been given across 41 countries, according to the Bloomberg tracker. That’s quite impressive in a short time. Think of all the bodies now building up their natural immunity to be able to prevent contracting the illness and also passing it on to others. However, in the last year nearly four times as many people — 90 million — have caught COVID.
As well as the prick in the arm of the vaccine, there’s another associated concept many expectantly have carried from 2020 into 2021, and that’s hope. While for some it is the belief that surely this year can’t be any worse than last year, for many there is some light at the end of the tunnel, and the prospects of 2021 being a re-set year when we move towards a world that is more equitable, sustainable and just. After a year of postponement, suffering, hardship and despair, there’s some momentum going forward, a cautious optimism, an empowered sense of resilience, and a belief that together we’re not going to be defeated by a deadly virus.
Looking back on the last year, which saw some questions raised on whether lockdowns infringed on freedoms, and was the wearing of masks a political statement, there seems to be a very ugly side of humanity and human nature which has been exposed.
Before, conspiracy theories tended to be the domain of weirdo uncles and ‘know-it-alls’, but now this minority is more vocal and manipulative in spreading outlandish falsehoods using social media, in particular Facebook and YouTube, linking Hollywood elites, child sex trafficking, 5G causing coronavirus, deep state, compulsory vaccinations and microchips. As we have learnt in the last twelve months, those gullible enough to believe these wacky theories can’t be swayed by rational arguments, evidence, or myth-busting. Often these made-up stories, fake new hoaxes and ‘alternative facts’ can be used to fuel violence, terror or racism.
But as well as some unsavoury aspects of human behaviour clearly evident in 2020, we have also seen the other side; the respecting of public-health guidelines, the revelation that some low-paid jobs are actually the most essential, a sense of community unity and shared responsibility. My wish is that through the ‘life and death’ wake-up call we’ve had in 2020 with coronavirus, that we reflect on what we have learnt and make small steps in making the changes real in our lives. After all, the events of 2020 have impacted not just on how we live, work and play, but on our health, wealth and global security.
There are other stories that have come out of 2020, a new resolve, an awareness of things previously taken for granted, and the discernment that the most important things in life can’t be bought online. These more personal learnings are shared among many, with the realisation that what you thought you once wanted isn’t necessarily what you need.
As well as sorting out what’s important, a number of my friends have grown to value the importance of self-care, or at least the need to stop doom-scrolling to avoid getting easily triggered and upset.
Lockdown and time alone have heightened the importance of relationships, the choice to slow down, and what benefit there is in appreciating the small things. Connection with the natural world has been a green cure for many too, as demonstrated in numerous studies including one titled: less screen time and more green time. And if there is an idea that has come out of the harrowing times of 2020, it might be the desire for a kinder world, starting from loving oneself, and extending out to all.
Keith Lyons (keithlyons.net) is an award-winning writer, author and creative writing mentor who has been based in Asia for most of the 21st century writing about people and places. Find him at Wandering in the World (http://wanderingintheworld.com).
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