Anything to cheer about? Not much
By Jean Godden
'Tis the end of the year and throughout the land, newspaper editors are assigning reporters to sum up a miserable year, one we're thankfully about to consign to history.
It says so much about 2020 that, rather than headlines about the year's "10 best new restaurants" and most popular movies, songs and plays, this year we're faced with the "10 best take-outs," most watched streaming and escapist novels. Who could have guessed that we'd want to read more about Winston Churchill and the inner thoughts of Abraham Lincoln?
In other words: What a strange year it has been. Back in January, we were thinking that 2020 --- the start of a new decade -- meant a great beginning. There would be new ways to make the world better, a growing optimism. We believed we could deal with climate crisis and past inequities.
Then along came February and our lives and livelihoods were turned upside down. Just across the lake in an assisted living facility, we had the nation's first confirmed death from a deadly new sickness. Suddenly we became aware that the virus first reported in China was spreading. It began showing up aboard cruise ships and in nations across the world.
Our leaders reacted in strikingly different ways. The president ducked a leadership role. Although he had been told differently, he said corvid-19 would soon vanish. He said it was no worse than the yearly flu and would be gone by Easter. Meanwhile, state governors (our own Gov. Jay Inslee included) were steered by science. They shut down their economies and scrambled to get desperately needed masks and ventilators.
Grocery stores were emptied of toilet paper, hand sanitizer and baking supplies. Businesses sent employees home to work remotely. Restaurants, movie theaters, concert halls, museums and schools were closed; sports suspended. We were told to stay home, stay safe. Our downtown streets became oddly deserted.
We acquired new heroes. We cheered the doctors, nurses and aides who became our new saviors. We relied on them to treat loved ones and help stem the covid-19 tide. There were many others who gained our respect and admiration: grocery clerks, mail carriers and bus drivers.
At home, we were learning to live in isolation. We found new ways to connect. We emailed and texted and learned to Zoom. We found out what the "mute" icon did, but not before some of us messed up. It was a learning experience.
We met neighbors, masked and distanced, in our yards and parks. We did morning coffee and evening happy hours. Unable to attend class, youngsters took to the streets to explore their neighborhoods. Bird watching became the popular new sport. On Facebook we shared pictures of pets and resident urban animals (squirrels, racoons and coyotes).
We learned to bake, shared sourdough recipes and posted pictures of baking triumphs on Facebook. Fashion no longer mattered. The more one worked from home or communicated through Zoom sessions, the less one worried about chic apparel. Sales of fancy handbags and dress shoes plummeted faster than luxury cruise-ship bookings.
By summer's end we relished a brief period of relaxed quarantine: able to dine outdoors at widely spaced tables; able to mask up for haircuts, allowed to amble (masked and distanced) through museums and galleries. We dared to schedule ceremonies like small weddings and christenings.
But then, sadly, the cooler days came, fueling a second wave of covid-19 infections and deaths. To combat the outburst, we are under new restrictions, staying at home; some of us working from there. By necessity, holidays are smaller, shrunken affairs, marked mostly by electronic gatherings and virtual hugs.
The disaster, however, has fueled a surprising miracle. Private industry, spurred by government subsidies, has managed to turn out two emergency-approved vaccines in less than a year. Although delivery is slower than expected, more vaccines will become available and we know we'll have access in coming months.
Here again there are heroes: volunteers who tested the vaccines, scientists and lab workers, technicians and transport drivers. We're indebted to thousands, mostly unheralded. They've saved lives.
Today there is reason to hope there can be an end to the world's nightmare. Dr. Antony Fauci and other experts predict a return to "almost normal" by summer's end. Let's hope they're right and that next year's holidays will be far different and we once again can live, work, study and play, no longer solo.