The Year that Shall Not be Named

2020: Would NOT Recommend

If I had even a penny for every time I heard or read some variation of, “2020 strikes again,” I could fund a time machine to skip the year entirely. For me, it’s an ironic concept. I’m not apart from the occurrences of this year, but, in the past, I’ve held different superstitions. Before the cesspool that became 2020, I held a firm belief that odd-numbered years were the real villains of the calendar. Then the bottom fell out, and I had to reexamine my world view.

But is 2020 the demon we’re making it out to be? Or are our situations conspiring against us to create a deepening whirlpool we keep assigning that dreaded label to?

Mother Nature Says NO

COVID-19 forced us into a foreign concept of lockdown. We have new ways of engaging with the outside world, new habits integrated into our daily routines, and (hopefully) a new awareness of the people around us. With an average death every 1.5 minutes and a global death toll topping one million, the statistics are numbing. It feels like a slap in the face by Mother Nature (and She grounded us for bad behavior).

“Assuming there are 138 seats in a classic 737, that would mean eight planes have crashed on U.S. soil every day. Can you even imagine that?” ~David Kesseler, Grief Specialist

But pandemics aren’t a new invention, and COVID-19 doesn’t have the top spot just yet. The 1918 influenza pandemic claimed between 20–50 million victims. And let’s not forget the infamous Bubonic Plague. Sure, we’ve made a touch of progress on the medical front since then, but it still wiped out a chunk of the global population. At least we’re not at the stage of dumping bodies on carts. While we’re sitting around moping about the minor inconvenience of wearing face masks in public and stepping up our handwashing, there ARE worse fates.

The confinement plays on the mind, though. Stuck with nothing but social media for comfort (and those people we refer to as family), we end up sucked into the endless outpouring of negativity present on every social channel. Suddenly, everything magnifies, becoming too much to bear. We’re not just social distancing for the health of our friends, family, and neighbors — we’re locked in towers behind iron bars! It’s an exaggeration that plays into 2020’s negative reputation.

A World Turned Upside Down

The doomscrolling turns raw news stories into horrific events. Now, 2020’s responsible for the planet coming apart. The West Coast’s burning, the East Coast’s drowning in hurricanes, and the MidWest ripped itself open with an inland hurricane. If those aren’t signs of the end of times, then what more do you need?

We’re so fixated on negativity, we overlook the facts. Yes, we’ve dipped into the Greek alphabet for the second time in hurricane history. But the naming convention exists because of that POSSIBILITY. It’s frightening, and the storms crept up on us without warning. (When did Gamma happen?) No one wants to deny the damage Laura and Sally inflicted. When NOAA breaks out the words “unsurvivable storm surge,” it’s time to sit up and take notice.

But what about the remainder of the alphabet? Where did most of the storms end up? The entire roll call didn’t buffet us. Laura and Sally may have only given the Gulf Coast a reprieve of three weeks, but seven storms were in the gap. Seven potential problems that meandered on their way and left the coasts alone (for the most part). But your media feeds overlooked that news. Because hammering the downside of 2020 makes for better reading.

The August derecho crippled the middle of the country. Unfortunately, that particular 100mph storm failed to receive the attention it deserved on most media fronts, but — for the affected citizens — it played into the theme of 2020 disasters. Looking back, people lump the monster storm into 2020’s list of accusations. However, this particular beast fell short of the 2009 “super derecho” that battered the Midwest. Once again, worse times HAVE reared their heads, if we dare to step back and look.

Millions of acres have burned in California alone. The damage to property, life, and emotions is unfathomable. With Oregon, Washington, Arizona, and Colorado joining in, 2020 seems on course to drag us into the fiery pits. The images and stories rip your heart out every time you open another media feed. What more could this year possibly ask of us?! Common sense, perhaps?

Such fires are not new, as horrific and heartbreaking as they are. These wildfire conditions aren’t going anywhere. Drought, bark beetle infestations, and climate change all roll into prime fire seasons. Our negative minds latch onto those depressing images like leeches, laying the blame at 2020’s feet, though. We forget the 2018 fire. We even forget last year’s fires. Everything remains fresh, new — as if only 2020 lays claim to tragedy.

Taking a Step Back

I’m guilty of the same downward spiral. Every time something slips sideways, I use those exact words: “Dammit 2020!” As if the year’s developed a personality or exists as a physical presence in this world. I find myself counting down the days, looking forward to an odd-numbered year for the first time in my life.

I wanted this year over as soon as possible. I was tired of the horrible climate reports, the political bickering (I refuse to tackle that Gordian knot here), and the unraveling of a country I’ve loved my entire life. I wanted to close my eyes, pull the covers over my head, and pretend nothing existed — the way you do when you’re a child.

Then I took a moment and looked over everything from the other side. Hurricane Laura was devastating, but was it worse than Katrina? The derecho left many without power, but what about the sheer power and number of tornadoes that struck in 2011? The fires leave thousands without homes, but they’re also a natural part of the forests’ ecosystem. Without some burn, many of those trees fail to germinate and repopulate. And the stories of heroism that appear — if I focus on THOSE in favor of the acreage lost, I gain more sleep at night.

Years are relative. I’ve held a long superstition that odd-numbered years were the worst thing in the world. I often track adverse events to those years, which was why 2020 threw me for a loop.

Except when I took the time to think, I overlooked a year. In 2016, my sister received her diagnosis of breast cancer. I underwent my hysterectomy. Small potatoes, to the world. For my family, it was crushing. But I didn’t take it out on 2016, for some strange reason. Because it didn’t end in an odd number? Very likely so.

Finding the Silver Lining in 2020

We’re into October now, and I see people starting counters to 2021. Others are placing bets on the disasters yet to come. No one wants to stay in 2020. I don’t want to participate anymore, though. It’s tempting, and social media gathers you in every time you click on the icon. Alien invasion? Comet collision? Civil war? The arrival of Cthulhu? Anything seems possible at this point.

I don’t want to play.

Yeah, a lot’s gone wrong in 2020. Blaming the year for a random collection of events isn’t fair. Because so many things went RIGHT this year, too. They just aren’t getting the same press. So we have to look harder.

  1. I got married this year. So did so many people. Maybe not in the way they intended, but does that matter? Does it count any less? Finding someone willing to love you despite lockdown and insane negativity — that’s worth celebrating, people.
  2. A friend of mine had her daughter this year. How many other children were born? Are we supposed to ostracize them because a roll of the dice placed their birth year in 2020? “Oh, you’re one of THEM.” Kids have enough problems without getting labeled with a year.
  3. I stopped dancing around and took a chance on my dream job this year. I’m a WRITER. No way in hell I’m letting some taint take away the joy that brings me. If someone dared to follow their dream this year, should they feel guilty? 2020 gave them their identity!
  4. I’ve gained new friends this year. When I look back in five years, am I supposed to skip them because our friendship started in 2020? Or does it matter more because it started this year, and other friends happened into my life in “less exciting times?” That doesn’t seem very intelligent. They mean the world to me, all the same. Friends are friends, regardless of when they walk into your life.

People have found their voices this year. Others have gained new perspectives they didn’t have. Those are vital. They came about BECAUSE of the events of 2020. Do we discount them and bury them because we hate the negativity? Or do we take a step back, blink, and realize good can come from bad?

The choice in how we look at a year, a month, or even a day resides in our hands. We can allow our current situation to paint us with a brush of negativity and slap a red “X” over 2020. Or we can open our eyes a little wider to take in the bigger picture.

It’s our decision to make.

Freelance science writer, meanderer of thoughts, and complete animal nut. My life is governed by a tiny demon (or possibly a flerken - still running tests).