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Looking back on 2020, the year we second-guessed everything

By Alma Fabiani

Dec 30, 2020

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Where do I even start with 2020? I’m certain that decades from now, scholars will qualify 2020 as a pivotal time in history, which it was in a way. But until then, when the people who lived through it look back not only on the year in itself but also on the timelines of their personal lives, many will simply be looking at an empty calendar.

When we all started using the catchphrases ‘during these unprecedented times’, ‘the new normal’ and ‘strange times’ to make our emails slightly more considerate of the situation at the beginning of the first wave of lockdowns, little did we know that strange would become the best term to describe 2020.

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For all its eventfulness, 2020 has for many been a lost year (in every sense of the word). While many of us lost loved ones, we all had to put our lives on hold. Trips were cancelled, celebrations had to be put on hold, and months that dragged on at the time went by in a flash in retrospective.

Sure, humanity had seen worse times—but while the features of 2020 have all arisen in the past, they never arose all at once. The 1918 influenza pandemic, which lasted until April 1920, was far more intense but disturbances to daily life usually lasted two to three months at most.

Speaking to The Atlantic, Rebecca Edwards, one of the co-authors of America’s History, explained that wartime often inspired “a yearning for the return of ‘normal life’ during a period of suffering and sacrifice,” and noted that deployment caused many couples to delay living together and having children. Similar patterns have resulted from long-lasting economic downturns.

But even as the textbook’s authors suggested possible parallels in the article, they also pushed back on the premise that each component of 2020’s lostness is even a break from the historical norm. The year’s particular combination of “delayed timelines, diminishment of celebrations, and evacuation of public life characteristic of this pandemic is relatively unique.”

Halting our lives didn’t only mean we had to spend birthdays and meetings on Zoom calls—it also forced us to press pause on long-term life goals. And as a result, having all this extra ‘free time’ made us second guess everything. Should we be learning a new skill? Or should we not—should we put self-care and rest above all else?

Should we bother planning ahead or should we focus on the present? For most of us, myself included, making plans (be that life plans or figuring out what to do on the weekend) is a means of trying to exert some control over the inherently unknowable future. 2020 made all these plans vanish, leaving us destabilised and uncertain about everything.

As motionless as some aspects of our lives became, others accelerated like never before. Couples moved in together sooner than expected, many lost their jobs while others started new ones, and pregnancy announcements flooded our social media feeds.

2020 was interminable to live through, but swift in retrospect. As the years pass, maybe it will seem even more empty than it actually was, but look on the bright side; this year will only make the future more vivid. Where 2020 was in black and white, 2021 will show fluorescent colours that will stay ingrained in our memories for a long time.

Whether I’m just being naive or not is yet to be revealed, but whatever 2021 brings along, we need to remember this year for the challenges it made us face. And although these challenges affected everyone, they didn’t affect everyone equally. What we do in 2021, together, will shape what happens next.