There’s no getting around it. This year has been — to put it lightly — a bad one.
Amidst an ever-growing list of ruined plans, lost opportunities and national tragedies, it’s fair to say that the current state of events has kept everyone’s spirits low. It’s hard to keep track of how many times I’ve seen or heard others call 2020 “the worst year” or lament all the things we as a society missed out on or were forced to endure. I myself have looked back on my accomplishments this past year and felt more than a little disheartened at how short that list is.
Because of the collective disappointment we all feel, I’m not surprised to hear others pin the blame on 2020 itself for all the terrible things that have happened. When beloved public figures pass away or COVID-19 cases spike in our increasingly dire pandemic, one of the first messages to flood social media and my everyday conversations is, “Of course it had to happen in 2020.” The assumption is always that 2020 is cursed, as if the fact that we are living in this particular year has something to do with our hardships.
Things seem hopeless right now. With each passing day, it seems as though the fabric of our society has sunken deeper and deeper into the same state of monotony, bordering on despair. Perhaps as a coping mechanism, we’ve started to joke about how everything was fine until 2020 rolled around. These jokes, however, also imply that the difficulties we face today will fade away come 2021. We have to remember that many of 2020’s problems have been around for decades and will continue to persist long after New Year’s Day — that is precisely why we have to stay vigilant.
Sure, COVID-19 was definitely not a big issue prior to 2020. The first cases of coronavirus were not even reported until December of 2019 in Wuhan, China. But the underlying issues that have made COVID-19 so devastating — especially in the United States — far predate the dawn of the new decade. Our country’s healthcare system, in addition to a wealth gap that keeps the vast majority of Americans teetering on the brink of financial ruin, has exacerbated a pandemic that was already bad and turned it into a nightmare for a large portion of our country. Our federal government has shied away from providing real, cohesive guidance for years, not just when coronavirus arrived in the United States. In all honesty, if we had been paying attention to the signs, there was nothing surprising about the way the COVID-19 outbreak has affected us all. We were ill-equipped to handle a pandemic of this scope and size.
With the elephant in the room out of the way, we can then take a look at other issues that have become prominent players in 2020, and it becomes even more apparent just how long-standing these problems have been. Police brutality against marginalized communities is nothing new — far from it. Then, there are partisan political divisions. These include President Donald Trump’s impeachment — can you believe that happened this year? — as well as the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett after Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death. More recently, there has been an active fight over the 2020 presidential election and its results. However, these conflicts are to be expected when placed in the context of a nation that has grown significantly more polarized since the 1970s. Really, the only truly unexpected development of 2020 was the oddly specific “murder hornets” that arrived in the United States.
2020 is not the cause of all our problems. It is simply the year that all these issues we have been ignoring or dismissing have exploded in our faces. Needless to say, we all felt the impact.
Looking back on this past year, I understand why people are eagerly awaiting the arrival of a new one. 2020 was not a good time for most people — most people reading this can attest to that. It’s perfectly reasonable to mourn what feels like a wasted year, filled with missed opportunities and squandered potential. It’s easy to pretend that these problems will magically disappear in 2021 without taking the time to reflect on where we went wrong and how we can improve for the future.
Recognizing that the problems we face will not go away, however, is the first step to actually doing something about them — and making a difference. No, COVID-19 will not go anywhere, not until a vaccine has been widely distributed and the world has developed an extensive immunity to the virus. The Black Lives Matter movement will continue to push ahead in the fight for equity and justice. Partisan divides will not vanish overnight, no matter who is serving in the White House. There is still much work to be done. The sooner we can accept these as truths, the sooner we can address them.
This is not exactly an optimistic message. I know it may be overwhelming. Just like everyone else, I wish the solution was as convenient as switching the calendars in our homes. While it may be easy to act as though 2020 was the sole arbiter of our misfortunes, it’s even easier to lose hope, but this is by no means a hopeless situation. The thought that we can make real, substantive change that will better the lives of millions is one that should uplift and encourage us to cling to our ideals. I hope that — as bad as this year may have been for you — you can take comfort in the fact that we can bring back a semblance of normalcy and even build upon what our idea of “normalcy” is.
We will come together to face the crises that lie ahead, as we as a global community have done in the past — but only if we can agree that we must work harder than ever to address the many systemic and societal failures across numerous institutions. Pointing fingers at 2020 will get us nowhere — but joining hands and combining our strengths to act will. Maybe that will serve as enough motivation to get through the year and look forward to what has yet to come. I certainly believe that a brighter future lies ahead.
Samantha Cynn is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.