2020 YEAR IN REVIEW | Colin Brezicki, Novelist

A year to forget?

The future ain’t what it used to be, said Yogi Berra, who had a way of making truth sound like nonsense (a welcome reversal).

As for the past, many would agree this year’s a good one to put behind us.

We were all of seven days into 2020 when the World Health Organization was notified of a new virus originating in a wet market in Wuhan, China. Two months later the WHO declared a global pandemic.

Without question, COVID-19 is the most significant event of the year, with 67 million confirmed cases and 1.5 million deaths worldwide. Whole countries were shut down for weeks.

The good news is that 43 million people have “recovered” and three vaccines have been found.

Otherwise, the past year may well be remembered not so much for what happened as for what didn’t.

In Canada alone we lost the Calgary Stampede, the CNE, Stratford, the Shaw Festival, Carabana, Pride parades, Cirque de Soleil, the Memorial Cup, and the CFL. Everything else happened differently. Professional sports resumed their schedules in vast, empty stadiums. The Stanley Cup came back to Edmonton for the first time since Gretzky days and was taken home by the Tampa Bay Lightning. Technology came into its own as never before with businesses, schools, universities, churches and families going virtual. Masks became the order of the day, except for those too selfish to bother. Restaurants spilled onto the streets once the weather permitted al fresco dining, and not a few have since gone under.

So have Darth Vader, James Bond, Diego Maradona, Kobe Bryant, Alex Trebek, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Congressman John Lewis, and former Prime Minister John Turner.

Some 13,000 Canadians lost their lives to the coronavirus while the nation approached bankruptcy bailing out the millions who lost their livelihoods. The US led the global death toll while its president declared it in turn a hoax, a conspiracy, a minor ailment, and something that was already behind us. Eventually he came close to telling the truth when he declared, “We’ve learned a lot. A tremendous amount has been learned” —if he meant COVID is not the common cold. He was impeached, then found not guilty by the Senate, and finally became the first president in history to lose the same election three times.

Among the events that COVID pushed into the “also ran” category for the time being were climate change, massive bush fires in Australia and forest fires in Brazil, Siberia, Oregon and California. Floods in India, Pakistan and Fort McMurray. Hurricanes sprang up too often for the alphabet to keep up. And to complete the biblical list, a plague of locusts descended on Delhi.

Man’s inhumanity to man continued unabated in 2020 with 23 people killed in a shooting and arson rampage in Nova Scotia. There were ugly riots in Hong Kong as China tightened its grip on the city-state, and huge anti-racism protests across the US and Canada triggered by the cop-knee-on-neck murder of George Floyd.

In Canada the railroads ceased to run for a couple of weeks as Indigenous people sought to reclaim their land. Across the pond, Britain departed from the EU and the Windsor-Markles removed their brand from the Royal Family’s, events that if you missed them will no doubt be included in Season something of The Crown.

It was a year when being a leader became an unenviable job. Some managed better than others but they could only be as effective as their populations allowed. Containing the spread became a grim game of whack-a-mole as hot spots appeared without warning, most tragically in long-term care facilities. Scenes of relatives standing outside the windows of incarcerated parents and grandparents were almost too painful to look at.

And yet for all the despairing headlines and exponential rise in infections and deaths through the year, we were given something to cheer about. Our healthcare workers, front-line doctors and nurses, teachers, grocery store workers, restaurateurs and many others have faced constraints that doubled the challenge of their work, as they risked daily exposure in keeping our lives as close to normal as possible. They don’t make the headlines and they don’t make hero pay, but they keep life going, literally in our hospitals, and figuratively everywhere else.

With a brother who’s a doctor and a daughter who manages a Toronto bookstore I know a little of the added stress and peril in the daily lives of those who underpin our health care and our economy.

A painted rock in the neighbourhood. COLIN BREZICKI

Parents know only too well the added stress of online learning while many would confess to knowing only too little of the material they’re trying to help their kids with at home. Unless they’re teachers themselves they likely don’t know what it’s like to work past midnight marking assignments and configuring tomorrow’s online lessons along with the non-virtual equivalents for the cohort in the classroom. I’ve never taught through a mask to masked kids who can’t leave their seats and who are dependent on me to divert them with interesting stuff so they don’t think about the virus outside that has stolen part of their childhood. Using hand-sanitizer a dozen times a day and wiping down surfaces were never part of my teaching workload. Neither was fear.

“The day never ends,” says Kelly Main, a high school teacher in Waterloo. “It never ends. I think we might be headed for some real burnouts.”

On the plus side they work with children, many who possess wisdom in their hearts. I see their messages on the painted stones placed by mailboxes around my neighbourhood. The artwork is delightful and the words simple enough. Courage. Love. Hope. Kindness. I’ve noticed that the message isn’t lost on a lot of people—strangers who wave from across the street or nod a silent greeting as we queue outside the supermarket.

Will 2021 and the vaccine return us to normal? I doubt it. Normal is ever-changing and so are we. As Alice said, “I can’t go back to yesterday —because I was a different person then.”

So were we. Who we’ll be now is up to us.