Can I just be open about it and say that 2020 was a terrible year. It was even worse than 2018 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer and my father died and 2001 when I was at the World Trade Center on September 11th and 2008 when the economy fell off a cliff and 2012 when I lived in darkness for a week during Hurricane Sandy. I have no patience for those who say that I should be grateful for what I have because I know that already, but if we can’t just freely admit that it has been a terrible year and sheltering in place is not a “gift” for discovering ourselves, how can we grieve together for what we have lost?
And what we have lost is the feeling of safety in the world. Every trip outside has resulted in a risk analysis. If I go to the grocery will I catch the coronavirus and die? If I order groceries (and in the spring it was impossible to even get a delivery window), will the virus be delivered along with the food and I will catch the virus and die? If I order a latte from the coffee shop, or get a haircut or even touch the elevator buttons in my building or open my mailbox, will I get the virus and die? I do not think I am being over-dramatic or overly concerned about getting ill. There are those who have been as cautious as I have, and they got the virus. And some have died.
So many good people have been lost. I cannot even begin to fathom that we are losing the same number of Americans every single day that we lost on September 11th. I have divided my life between pre- and post-September 11th, because that is when I lost the sense of safety in my hometown and country. We had never before been attacked on our home soil in the United States (except for Pearl Harbor and that was far away) and the realization of how vulnerable we could be was a loss of innocence.
The virus represents yet another demarcation in life “before” and “after” and another loss of innocence. I lived every day since last March as if the breath of death was hovering around me. I do not know how I will ever be able to live my life again without the hypervigilance that has engulfed me and has led to feeling like I have lived through a near-death experience every day of my life. And the loss of so many lives is unfathomable. If I grieved with all my heart and soul on September 11th and spent the days in its aftermath in the arms of my friends, how do I begin to grieve when we are living through the equivalent of September 11th every single day?
I am glad that 2020 is almost over, but not entirely hopeful for 2021, as it will likely be more of the same until the vaccine can be widely disseminated. And there are likely to be some surprises as nothing these days goes exactly as planned. And yes, I am grateful to have a home and a job and a family who is there for me even if the virus has kept us apart. As we near the end of this year we should all acknowledge that it has been a terrible one that we have lived through together.
And if there is anything to truly be grateful for, it is the dogs. The dogs will save us. I live with two cats rather than dogs, but when I take a walk around the neighborhood in an effort to shake off my isolation and see a dog who is so happy to just be out and about, I have hope that things will get better. The dogs seem so joyful to be with their significant person and to trot around the street taking in each smell and sound and sight. They do not seem to know that there is a virus in the air or that death could be so close. If there is any good emanating from this pandemic it is the emptying of the animal shelters as people sought companionship during the lock-down and the pure pleasure that a loved dog exudes during an early morning walk.
I somehow doubt that 2021 will be the year when we can let our guard down and take a deep breath and put the pandemic behind us. I worry that to some extent the virus will always be with us. But if there is something else to be grateful for this year, it is the miracle of science that developed and disseminated a vaccine so quickly. The scientists who have worked tirelessly in their labs since the onset of the pandemic have literally saved the planet. They should be remembered always as the heroes among us.
There is the hope at least that 2021 cannot be much worse than the year we have just lived through. And I suppose that is something. But before 2020 is out, we should all let out a collective yell and scream together at the top of our very loud outdoor voices that this was a truly awful year. And so, 2020, please leave and feel free to slam the door behind you. I will take great pleasure in the sound.