The Two Sides of 2020

I won’t be overstating things when I say that 2020 was not what anyone wanted it to be. I’m pretty sure everyone who said that 2020 would be their year has been proven wrong, but whether we like it or not, the year certainly became unforgettable. It was a year where everything seemed to happen simultaneously, most of them were anything but good, and I think halfway through most people had gotten to the point where nothing would surprise them anymore. Still, we’ve made it through and in a few days, we can finally say that 2020 is over, which is why I decided to take this time and use this article to reflect on everything that has happened during this strange year. 

So, let’s wind the clock back to January 2020, when corona was not yet a major problem for most of the world, yet we were all aware that the year hadn’t gotten off on the right foot. It might seem like a lifetime ago to some, but a year ago, Australia was on fire. People lost their homes, wildlife got destroyed and the fire just kept going relentlessly. To watch the footage on tv was heart-breaking and I can’t begin to imagine what it might’ve been like to actually be there and experience such a traumatic event. For months, Australia desperately tried to cope and reign in the fire and destruction, and 2020 had barely even started. 

At the same time, worries arose that the President of the United States might start World War III with Iran after he started mouthing off on Twitter, causing growing tension between them. The two countries were already at the brink of war after Trump ordered a drone strike on an Iranian airport which killed their most powerful military commander. Things had only gotten worse from there on out and the President’s tweets did not do the matter any good, neither did the Iranians responding in kind. Luckily, a third world war was not in 2020’s already dramatic playbook. 

Instead, it dealt us the corona virus and it was enough to keep us busy the rest of the year, and likely part of 2021 too. As I’m writing this, the death toll has reached 1.7 million and thousands upon thousands of people are learning to survive with the long-term damage that the virus has done to their bodies. While the other two events I mentioned were something I experienced through a screen, from the outside, this virus is something I can give my own account of. I still remember when the first lockdown happened in the Netherlands. It’s almost surreal to be writing the word ‘first’ when referring to a lockdown. If anyone had told me last year that everyday life as I knew it would change so significantly in such a relatively short period of time, I would not have believed them. Yet here I am, in the middle of the pandemic during the second lockdown. I remember that the first lockdown gave everyone a bit of a pause. Most of us had never experienced it before and the idea that it was necessary made most people realize just how serious this virus and the pandemic really were. I remember our Prime Minister referring to this period as the “New Normal” and I cannot deny that that is exactly what it’s become. So normal even that the second lockdown, in my experience, hardly seems to make a difference at all. I know, rationally, that this will help, but for me it doesn’t change a thing. Schools are closed now, but I have been following all my classes through Zoom since March; ‘non-essential’ shops are closed now, but the restaurant I work at already was; and we can only travel with public transport if absolutely necessary, but most of my friends live in Amsterdam and that’s been a red-zone since the beginning, something I avoided already. The only thing that I can’t do now that I could before the second lockdown is go shopping, and it’s not like that has a significant impact on my daily life. I can’t say that my life has been all that fun or exciting ever since March, except on a few rare occasions. And yet, I’m one of the lucky ones. All around the world, people are losing their jobs and can’t put food on the table for their families anymore. All around the world, healthcare workers are running on fumes, mentally and physically exhausted after months and months of hard work and watching people die left and right. All around the world, people are separated from loved ones, or worse, had to say goodbye through a screen or phone call. 

And still, life outside of the pandemic continued, as strange as that might seem at times, and 2020 had a lot more in store for us. There were murder hornets somewhere at the beginning, a helicopter crash that shocked a nation, the horrible murder of George Floyd by police brutality, and the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Now the last one might be less known so allow me to elaborate. In September a conflict arose between the two neighbouring countries over an Azerbaijani piece of land with lots of Armenians living in it. The number of casualties in this conflict reached almost six thousand, among which were civilians. These numbers might possibly be a lot higher, seeing how both countries seem to have downplayed their own number of deaths. Fortunately, the countries agreed to a ceasefire on the 10th of October.

However, despite all these terrible things, 2020 did contain moments of absolute beauty and humanity that I simply can’t overlook if I am to give a true account of the past year. This year has been terrible for most everybody and I’m glad it’s almost over, but it’s in those darkest times that our heroes arose. And those heroes weren’t the rich and powerful, they were the people like you and me: the healthcare workers, the shop clerks, the activists. Our heroes were the ordinary people who worked essential jobs. The people who were looked down upon. The people who were told that they were unimportant. The people who showed up when it was needed most. The people who took a stand because no one else would and they certainly couldn’t count on help from the rich and powerful. It’s those people who showed me how beautiful humanity can be, especially during times of crisis. 

It was the woman who rescued a koala in the Australian wildfires, it was the people who donated from all around the world, the people who offered up their homes to those running from the fire after it had destroyed their homes. It’s the world-wide horror and aid, and the firemen who did everything they could to reign in that terrible fire at their own risk.

It’s the healthcare workers who’ve been giving their all since March. It’s the people who go out of their way to check on their lonely neighbour. It’s that step aside to keep your distance. It’s the people supporting local businesses. It’s the people volunteering to babysit the children of those working in essential professions. It’s the meeting of elderly behind screens and windows. It’s doing the groceries for those who are vulnerable. 

It’s the people who took a stand and said: no more, enough is enough, after George Floyd was killed by police brutality and systematic racism. It’s the words “I can’t breathe” that shook the world and broke our hearts. It’s the decision to take to the streets and march because Black Lives Matter. It’s the support world-wide, in every major city. It’s the people who spoke up, and those who checked their privilege and decided to listen. 

It’s the record number of people who decided to make their vote count to get rid of a bigot. It’s the first female, black vice-president being elected. It’s those who spend days counting and checking every vote.

It’s humanity. 

This year has been one that I don’t think I ever will nor can forget, but looking back at it, I don’t think I want to. Yes, 2020 was a terrible year overall and it’s not something I’d wish to experience again. Many people have had to say goodbye to loved ones before their time and I will not pretend that this was something good for me to experience. This pandemic is not something I will ever wish on anyone. But the year has almost passed and I’m an optimist at heart, so I will say this: I’ve learned a lot this year. I’ve learned that in times of need, real heroes take a stand. I’ve learned how fragile us humans really are. I’ve also learned how strong and resilient we can be. I’ve learned how truly important it is to be kind and thoughtful, for it can make a difference. I’ve learned that humanity is pretty amazing. I know things won’t go back to normal when 2020 is over, but I’m glad it almost is. It’s been a terrible and remarkable year and I hope the next one will be better. I hope that I can hug my friends and family again and that I can do all the fun things I missed out on last year. So, here’s to a better upcoming year.

Happy new year everyone.

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