The Year That Was

A late 2020 meme or trope has been circulating. It takes issue with people who are ready to say goodbye to 2020 and to welcome 2021. The criticism is that people are placing their hope on a new year as if the pandemic will magically disappear as soon as the clock strikes midnight on December 31st.

I don’t think anybody believes this, but the symbolism is powerful and can help us better deal with the reality in front of us. In this sense, history will see 2020 as the year of the pandemic, and 2021 as the year of the vaccine. This is enough to wish for that transition. It’s all in the symbolic power that we give to dates, holidays, anniversaries, and celebrations.

I am always a bit afraid of midnight on December 31st, we give so much significance and weight to that moment. This year I’m nervous too. I feel like I have been holding on for dear life not to fall apart, waiting stoically for the year to end. The transition will happen and we will symbolically leave behind everything that 2020 represents.

It’s was so strange, this year 2020. In some ways, it feels like it just started but in others, it feels like we’ve aged 100 years since March. It’s as if March was the top of a roller coaster and we have been suspended in mid-air waiting for the drop. After we realized we were not going anywhere for a while, we had to learn how to live in that suspended state and that was easier for some and much harder for others.

My little family and I did as well as anybody could hope. My husband and I have struggled so much as immigrants. We have been unemployed, underemployed, gone to school while working multiple jobs, been employed but being so broke we needed to share our single transit monthly pass or raid my six-year-old son’s piggy bank to be able to take the train to work. 

We have had marital ups and downs, miscarriages, heartbreak. We have lived away from our families. But we have always made it and the unknowns brought by the pandemic were easier to take given our experience with financial, personal, and mental health struggles. Having some work, not catching this virus, and keeping our families healthy and safe was all that mattered.

This was also my first year as a freelancer, so work, or the constant search for it, kept me focused and busy. Amid moments of panic (“what have I done?”), I felt giggly exhilaration at finally having taken this leap; l would not trade it for anything in the world. 

Being a freelancer also allowed me to work on a new special project with a long-time, dear friend. And to interview numerous fascinating and knowledgeable people for articles in English and French, and to learn about horses, donkeys, and goats as a ghostwriter! What a gift!

The early lockdown also allowed me to see my son attend school while at home and see his great attitude and willingness to learn. Seeing his effort and his work ethic in action and how hard he worked to adapt to this new world made me so proud. What a privilege it was to witness that! 

On the other hand, there was very little music, very few books, and very few movies for me in 2020. This year took away my ability to enjoy those things. In this self-imposed cultural void, podcasts were my salvation. They were the one thing I could stand to listen to and they were my connection to learning, to new ideas, and the world. I think in a way, they fulfilled my need for insightful, inspiring conversation, which we couldn’t engage face to face with anybody this year. Podcasts accompanied me during long hours of research and long hours in the kitchen baking. I’m so thankful for them.

Then, in the summer, my obsession with history and period films led me to discover the subsection of YouTube where costume historians live and it’s been such a joy! History is my refuge from the present. Understanding that humanity has lived through and survived other plagues and pandemics–and even more terrible things such as wars, famines, and conflicts– gave me perspective and strength. 

Aren’t we lucky that we had to live through a pandemic in 2020?  Because I’m sure this has been quite different than living through the pandemic of 1918, or the plagues of 1665 or 1346. Well, I think it was very similar in that our human tendencies have not changed much but very different in terms of our chance for survival and in our ability to stay connected and even keep major parts of our economies going.

I think humility was the key this year. Being an immigrant from Venezuela keeps me humble. I don’t experience the suffering of Venezuelans in the abstract: I know how much my aunt, my uncle, my cousins are struggling. I’ve said this before: to be a Venezuelan in the 21st century is to live in chronic heartbreak. And as expected, the pandemic compounded every other tragedy Maduro’s regime has brought onto its people. 

At the beginning of 2020 Venezuelans were already experiencing widespread hunger and child malnutrition, an ongoing mental health crisis, and a refugee crisis. Then the pandemic hit and now people are also facing a deadly virus in a place where hospitals are barely functional and where there is barely any running water. It is all so cruel. And unacceptable and preventable. 

I live here in Canada, safe and sound. I think about this a lot and this year I thought about it even more. Immigrants are usually a very grateful lot and this year I continued to give thanks and give thanks and give thanks for what I have. 

This year was a test of our beliefs, our resilience. It was a test of our gut reactions and a revealer of our greatest needs. It was a test of our ability to hold off meeting those needs. Thank you 2020. Bye-bye 2020. I pray for and keep in my heart all of those who died this year of Covid-19. It was not their time to go. 

I pray for and keep in my heart all those who lost their livelihoods, who suffered from depression, or who saw their mental illness intensify this year. I’m an immigrant, middle-class, aspiring writer mom and this is my record of what it was to live in this year of the pandemic. 

And because this is a blog about the things we love, here are a couple of lists of what kept me going this year. Here’s to 2021; I know we will be wiser, kinder, more selfless, and compassionate this time around. 

Books I Managed to Read But Mostly Books I Bought or Were Gifted to Me in the Hope of Reading

Trick Mirror, by Jia Tolentino

Tiny Beautiful Things, by Cheryl Strayed

Uncanny Valley, by Ana Wiemer

Catch and Kill, by Ronan Farrow

A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe

All the Names They Used for God, by Anjali Sachdeva’s 

Mexican Hooker #1, by Carmen Aguirre

The Book of Negroes, by Lawrence Hill

Le chat janus, by Lyne Gareau

How We Fight for Our Lives, by Saeed Jones

Divided Loyalties, by Nilofar Shidmehr

Dragonfly in Amber, by Diana Gabaldon

Over the Top, by Jonathan Van Ness

Black Futures, edited by Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham

Wave, by Sonali Deraniyagala

Torch, by Cheryl Strayed 

The Storm of Wars, by Kate Williams

Becoming Queen, by Kate Williams

Purple Hibiscus, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie 

These and so many more, mostly unread, so here is my promise to myself for 2021: to read and think about and review as many of these books as I can. 

Podcasts I loved and that Saved Me From Complete Cultural Isolation

The Daily, the New York Times (currently embroiled in radio world controversy)

Front Burner, CBC

Ideas, CBC

Keep It, Crooked Media

Art History for All, with Allyson Healey

The Great Women Artists Podcast, with Katy Wessel 

Dressed: The History of Fashion, iHeart Radio

Switched on Pop, Vox

Outlandercast, by Mary & Blake

WTF with Marc Maron

Still Processing, the New York Times

Today in Focus, The Guardian

Show Your Work, Lainey Gossip

Aqui hablamos todas, Caracol

You’re Wrong About (current obsession), hosted by journalists Michael Hobbes and Sarah Marshall

Featured Photo: The trees of our nearby park, Central Park, hiding in the fog on December 24, 2020

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