I have been thinking about our laughter when we saw last year’s Christmas ornament proclaiming that 2020 will be the “best year ever.”
It was indeed quite the opposite. Horrendous. Worst ever. It goes without saying that Covid-19 tore through our nation and our world this year. As of December 27th, there were 331,916 deaths and 18,985,148 cases in America, according to CNN. And there were 1,755,940 deaths and 80,229,602 cases across the world, according to Wikipedia. With weekly deaths in America still increasing by more than 5% and weekly cases here still increasing by more than 10%, there is more horror ahead.
The number of Americans killed by Covid-19 in the last ten months of 2020 is so large as to be unfathomable, so let’s put it into some scale.
- It is more than the number of American army soldiers that died in the 45 months of World War II, when 295,000 were killed.
- It is equivalent to more than 111 consecutive 9/11’s worth of death, as if the terrorists attacked every day from 9/11 until 12/31.
- A book listing the deceased’s first and last names would be longer than War and Peace (587,287 words) and Atlas Shrugged (645,000).
- It exceeds the population of entire cities like Lexington, KY; Cincinnati; and Pittsburgh.
But the anguish of 2020 goes beyond those numbers. Consider the anxiety of friends, family and neighbors of anyone diagnosed with Covid-19. Consider the grief of surviving family members and friends, exacerbated because their loved ones were isolated in quarantine.
Imagine being a business owner whose life’s work withers as shutdowns were imposed and neighborhoods were vacated. Imagine losing your job in the worst job market in 80 years. Imagine having a job outside the home but no reliable childcare. Imagine being an essential worker commuting to your job in those early days, the post-apocalyptic vacant subways and empty streets telling you life was in peril.
Ponder being a Black American who has seen the lives of people like you snuffed by police and everyday citizens alike with impunity over and over and over again throughout American history. Ponder hate crimes against Asian-Americans like yourself, rising, because of a President who unapologetically attaches the deadly virus to China and stokes animosity and ignorance.
Ruminate on a general election whose validity was called into question months before by the most powerful and influential person in American government and who, even after losing in every way imaginable, refused peaceful transition of power, something that has otherwise happened after every general election (there have been 59 since 1788) not connected to the Civil War.
Yet, despite all of this tragedy and pain and death and anguish, I would not call 2020 … for America … the worst year ever. It was the most deadly year ever. It was the most painful year ever. It was the most tragic year ever. It was the most anxious year ever.
But I would not call it “the worst.”
You saw humanity develop and distribute multiple vaccine options less than one year after the onset of a new virus.
You saw many, many examples of people coming together to embrace necessary safety precautions for the protection of themselves and community.
You saw death-defying heroism of doctors and nurses and EMT and hospital workers of all sorts fighting to keep countless people alive.
You saw the prosaic heroism of teachers, delivery people, grocery clerks, postal workers, gas station attendants and others, stoically going about critical work.
You saw the resilience of your city as it descended into post-apocalyptic quiet but clawed itself from the precipice while mustering enough for continued existence.
You saw the selfless, determined principles of millions who, despite the pandemic, united to rally, condemn and stop senseless murders of Black Americans.
You saw the sublime power of organizing, speaking and voting.
You saw the election of the first woman, the first Asian and the first Black American as Vice President of the United States.
You saw election of the antithesis of the current Administration: Joe Biden and his measured, responsible and encouraging demeanor, words and behavior.
You saw that our democracy, in its ability to withstand despotic intentions, is much stronger than we give credit yet much more vulnerable than we ever thought.
You saw the unrelenting, at-home heroism of your mother, managing school and home responsibilities, while excelling at her job like never before.
You saw your father and his friends transform the vague outline of an idea into a $50,000 fundraiser and voting rights awareness campaign in less than three months.
You saw yourselves endure severely limited socializing, greater individual school responsibility, adjustment to new surroundings and 24/7 life with family.
You saw that life is far from fair and that people are far from perfect.
You saw that, often, the only thing you can do is find the trustworthy, address risks honestly, aspire for the best, prepare for the worst and take one day at a time.
You saw countless examples of strength, resilience and nobility of character, prevailing over calamity and despite many instances of human weakness.
Indeed, with head up and hope imperative, I would say 2020 … for your foreseeable future … will be the most important and impactful year ever. A reference point for all aspects of life for the rest of your lives.
You are now so much stronger, resilient, smarter and wiser than you would’ve been without 2020. I am proud of you in more ways than you’ll ever realize.
Many of our most precious and dear moments together will be from 2020. And we should be abundantly grateful that we can say that because too many others can only say the opposite.
I love you more than my actions may have conveyed or my words can ever capture.