2020 was the most hated year in recent memory. It was also the most important
New Years Eve is tonight, and as is customary, these last few hours of December are largely spent reflecting on the year that has passed.
2020 has undoubtedly been one of the most tumultuous years the world has faced in modern history. The global spread of the coronavirus pandemic shook the world to its core at a scale that can only be compared to the 9/11 attacks in the 21st century.
To date, over 80 million people have contracted the virus — millions of whom have been hospitalized, often in critical condition — and nearly two million people have succumbed to it.
Our friends and neighbors. Sisters and brothers. Parents and grandparents. Rich and poor. Famous celebrities and unknown names. Actors and playwrights. Scientists and engineers. Doctors and nurses. Entrepreneurs and businessowners. Security guards and policemen. Bus drivers and grocery workers. Mothers and fathers. Husbands and wives. Sons and daughters.
People who lived, breathed, ate, worked, slept, dreamed, and loved.
Countless others lost their livelihoods, experienced unforeseen hardships in their relationships and marriages, were forced to put their social, academic, and professional pursuits on hold (or, at best, continued them virtually), and families worldwide were forcibly isolated from those dearest to them for months.
The international economy experienced an unprecedented decline it has not seen since the Great Depression. Rates of anxiety, depression, and other mental health disturbances spiked, and cases of suicide peaked along with them.
Restrictions placed upon social gatherings have curbed significant events in people’s lives from taking place. Wedding dates have been postponed, graduation commencements have moved to the living room, birthday parties are held on Zoom and, most tragically, the funerals of those killed by the virus — as well as those lost to other causes — have been limited substantially, so mourners cannot even grieve properly.
As is the case around every New Years, people this time last year were preparing for their NYE celebrations and contemplating New Year’s resolutions they swore they’d abide by in the year to come. I personally recall scrolling past dozens of posts all over social media with some mention of “2020 vision” in them.
This year really was one so many had anticipated eagerly. The beginning of a new decade, the year of arguably the most heated election in US history and — let’s be honest — there is just a nice ring to “2020” that you can’t say about years past.
And then, not even a month into the new year, in an almost ominous warning of what was to come, the world witnessed the horrific sudden death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gigi, along with 7 others in a gruesome helicopter crash.
In similar fashion to the early stages of the pandemic, people from all around the world, regardless of religion, ethnicity, or political affiliation, stood together in mutual grief to mourn an international icon and role model for so many people of all ages and backgrounds.
It was as if, for a short moment, people had been smacked in the face with the realization of what’s important in life. Kobe Bryant, the man who arguably had everything one can desire — an illustrious and bountiful career, a beautiful family, worldwide adulation — spontaneously disappeared into thin air.
The thought that no matter who you are — no matter how famous, talented, wealthy, intelligent, or revered — your life and the life of your loved ones can end at any given moment is incredibly humbling.
People were briefly reminded that life is temporary and that spending the limited time we have here with those we cherish most is imperative.
Then, as is with most news in the digital age, other topics began trending and people resumed with their hectic, hedonistic lifestyles.
Until March came along and brought the world to its knees.
A handful of concentrated coronavirus cases suddenly grew into hundreds, then to thousands, and ultimately reached a global scale.
For the first time in at least a century, nearly everyone was forced to stay home.
Schools and businesses were abruptly shut down, company offices became vacant overnight, concerts and festivals were canceled, and all sports from little league to professional were suspended mid-season.
Bustling cities such as New York and Tokyo that are notoriously too noisy to hear one’s own thoughts in turned into ghost towns in the blink of an eye. It was as if the Earth had arbitrarily stopped on its axis and life had been put on pause indefinitely.
Family members and friends living just blocks away had effectively become as distant as those who lived abroad. If not for modern technology, we wouldn’t be able to see or hear our loved ones at all, let alone hug and kiss them.
Those living alone experienced a new level of solitude and those who require at home assistance care faced greater challenges than they already did prior.
For the first time in my life, I saw a world where everyone — literally everyone — was going through the same unfortunate circumstance in one way or another. And there is something immensely profound about that.
I witnessed a world that had for once — despite all the mundane differences that divide us — unanimously struggled against a common foe that posed an existential threat to us all.
It seemed as though, just for a moment, there was no Republican or Democrat, no black or white, no Jew or Arab, no Christian or Muslim. There were only humans. Humans who found common ground in keeping their families and neighbors safe.
And then, as humans have done since the dawn of time, we found something to argue about.
The pandemic had become the most politicized issue in contemporary politics by the time the first lockdown ended.
Many people got sick — okay, not actually sick — of limitations on their daily routines and of having to wear masks everywhere they went, and understandably so. Others continued to be highly skeptical of softening restrictions and even advocated for increased regulation of CDC protocol because they felt it is in the best interest of themselves, their relatives, and society at large — which is also understandable.
But, as is the case with most loaded political topics in this day and age, people fell short in accepting the nuance of the situation at hand. It was either you believed COVID-19 was some big conspiracy by the Chinese Communist Party and that mask-wearing was ineffective, or you felt that mandatory lockdowns should persist and that stricter Covid regulation be implemented.
Once again, the ugly face of humanity’s arrogance had been exposed.
By June, the world received yet another omen of the need for reconciliation as we witnessed the appalling murder of George Floyd.
Naively, I felt once more that there was a sliver of hope left for the human race as people of all backgrounds and political leanings unequivocally condemned the killing and showed solidarity with the black community.
Until, of course, the debate about whether or not the police should be defunded and or disbanded altogether arose and lawless riots ensued along with the nonviolent demonstrations.
The dissention was palpable at this point. You were either a defund the police advocate or a racist in many people’s eyes.
But this is nothing new. This type of extreme polarization has been used to pin people against one another since humans have existed and has increasingly become the norm in the last decade. 2020 was just a microcosm of the social climate we’ve been living through in recent times.
And that’s exactly why I think this year was an absolutely necessary turning point for humanity.
For once, people were forced to prioritize the truly important and invaluable aspects of life for more than a week. As sad as it is to admit, we needed this year as a wakeup call.
We needed to understand how far-reaching diseases can be to see that proper hygiene and self-care is vital.
We needed to witness the transmission of the virus to those closest to us to understand that we are not invincible.
We needed to be estranged from our loved ones on holidays and birthdays to fully realize how much they mean to us and recognize that spending our time with them shouldn’t have to wait for special occasions.
We needed to be socially distant to discover how to be more in-tune with ourselves.
We needed bars, clubs, and restaurants to shut down so that we could finally appreciate the little things in life that actually have the biggest value.
We needed the economy to wane in order to grasp that monetary wealth is not what matters most in life.
We needed civilization as we know it to come to a standstill so that we could truly embrace the world we live in.
We needed a pandemic to teach us that the world can change fundamentally at a moment’s notice and that nothing is set in stone.
And as heartbreaking as it is to say, we needed to suffer the colossal human sacrifice that we did in order to fully honor the sanctity of human life and learn to empathize with and respect one another.
I hope we did learn this time.
As we ring in 2021, a realistic New Year’s resolution that we can all collectively adhere to is to appreciate every moment we have here with those fondest to us and to be more decent to those we might not be as fond of even after this thing ends.
Because we shouldn’t have to wait for the next pandemic to remind us to be.
Wishing a happy, healthy, and safe New Year to all.