photo by Pixabay user eliza28diamonds
Congratulations – you survived 2020!
By the time this post is live, around 9 a.m. Eastern (U.S.) time on Dec. 31, the New Year will already be about four hours old in the Independent State of Samoa and a few other Pacific jurisdictions just past the international date line. It will be nearly that old in New Zealand, and Australians will have celebrated its arrival as well.
At midday in New York, the calendar will have flipped in Japan, the Korean peninsula and much of East Asia. The year that most of us can’t wait to leave behind will take its final breath at 7 a.m. Eastern time on New Year’s Day, on the far-flung, uninhabited U.S. possessions of Baker Island and Howland Island in the western Pacific.
Every year has its highs and lows, but few plumb such broad and deep troughs as 2020. The World War II years stand out as candidates for old-timers. Perhaps the centenarians would nominate 1918, the last time a pandemic on the scale of our current one swept the globe. But 1918 at least brought the end of a world war.
I am a little too young to remember the Cuban missile crisis, which brought us closer to all-out nuclear war than we have ever been, so far as we know. But that was just a period of less than two weeks in October 1962; the rest of that year was fairly undistinguished.
Until this year, I thought I would never live through a calendar year as traumatic as 1968. Scarcely anyone remembers the influenza pandemic of that year. But here in America we experienced another crisis – the Vietnam War – over which a president and his administration lost credibility, and which led to that president’s departure the following January.
The same year brought the racial disturbances that followed the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy; here in 2020, we had comparable disturbances following the death of George Floyd and other Black Americans at the hands of police. The chaos in Chicago’s streets around the 1968 Democratic National Convention saw its historical reflection this year in the bedlam that afflicted Portland, Oregon and Seattle. Overseas, 1968 saw the Soviets crush a movement toward freedom in the Prague Spring; 2020 gave us the Chinese security crackdown in Hong Kong.
“The Year of Living Dangerously,” a 1982 film adaptation of Christopher Koch’s 1978 novel, was not about 1968. It was about the events that rocked recently independent Indonesia in 1965. That year an abortive coup ended with the replacement of Sukarno, the country’s founding president, by an authoritarian government under Suharto. (Both leaders followed local practice in using only one name.) It also led to the mass executions and incarcerations of real and suspected communists.
Some tumultuous years, like 1965, reshape individual countries or regions. Indonesia’s turmoil partly overlapped but mostly foreshadowed the upheaval that followed elsewhere in Southeast Asia. Other years bring suffering to, and change the future for, much of the world. The World War II years did that, especially the pivotal ones of 1939, 1941 and 1945. A good case can be made for 1968, too. And 2020 will be another such year, with a pandemic that has already cost some 1.8 million lives (per official figures, though the real total is far higher) and brought widespread economic misery.
For most people, being caught in such turbulent times is primarily an exercise in survival. So it was in 2020. We tried to keep ourselves and our loved ones healthy, and as much as possible, we tried to keep ourselves financially solvent and in a position to resume normal life when the crisis passes.
The emergency is not over. In fact, there is good reason to expect that the toll in sickness and death may be higher in the first month or two of 2021 than in any pandemic months thus far, as the consequences of holiday travel and social distancing fatigue arrive.
But two vaccines are already in distribution, and more are in the pipeline. Things are going to get better. No doubt 2021 will have its highs and lows, but it should end with most of us in a better place than we find ourselves as it begins. We just have to get there.
All of us at Palisades Hudson wish you a happy, prosperous and (especially) healthy year ahead.