2020 YEAR IN REVIEW | Jane Bedard, Humorist

Hindsight is 2020

If a picture is worth a thousand words, can a word create a thousand pictures? I think so. How would you picture the word hope or despair or love? Every answer is unique. Below are some words that I came up with that symbolize the year 2020 for the Bedard family. What will your words be?

Ah, January. That was a good month. Do you remember January? We made plans. Remember plans? We made New Year’s Resolutions—one thing or a list of things we’d like to accomplish over the next twelve months. That all seems pretty absurd now, doesn’t it? After January, the word accomplish took on a whole new meaning, as in: I put on pants today–what an accomplishment! You may recall last year’s Word of the Year was they: a pronoun used to describe a person whose gender identity is non-binary. That word showed we had come a long way as a people. The word for this year: pandemic.

Talk about coming a long way.

In what seems like a very long way away, last January I went to Florida with some friends. I walked the beaches, went shopping, played tennis, swam in the Gulf. As tame as that all sounds, in retrospect it was more like the Roaring ‘20s; it was New York in the ‘70s; it was like my first pair of Lululemon yoga pants. January was an all-night beach party compared to the next eleven months.

Then came February, and over in Asia the cracks had turned to crevasses, which began to spread beyond their borders like that tiny chip in my windshield I ignored until it was too late. In the early days of WWII, when the Japanese were invading China, many Americans postured, “Oh, those poor people way over there in China. I do hope they’re going to be okay,” oblivious to the fact that the enemy was already airborne and heading towards their backyards. Like those naïve people, I buried my head the sand, which happened to be Florida sand, because that’s where I went again in the first days of February, with my husband.

We arrived, unfettered, on Sunday to stay with my in-laws. On Monday we watched the news. On Tuesday, we changed our flights. On Wednesday we got our Canadian butts back to Canadian soil before those crevasses turned into deep valleys. The troops had landed on North American soil, all the “un” words surfaced: unprepared, unprecedented, unpredictable. Apparently, the world had come undone, and I had toilet paper to buy. The frenzy for food and other essentials was like a failed experiment in human nature. It was Panic at the Disco. Just off the plane, I arrived late in the game to the grocery store and walked over the remains of several bodies that had been trampled in the aisles like fans at the ’79 Who concert, except all in the name of antibacterial wipes.

Ahh, I love the smell of COVID in the morning.

March came in like a lion cub and went out like a full-grown lion—it was inevitable. My kids came home from school one day and didn’t leave for six months. A pandemic (our word for the month/year) was officially declared and our world became very small. We watched a lot of news and even more Netflix. Our well-worn route to the gym emptied out and our new exercise—walking—grew from a half hour to an hour to two hours, holding hands with my husband or six feet apart with a friend. New restrictions popped up daily. Emails came in cancelling appointments—doctors, dentists, and orthodontists. But it was on March 17, at 2:05 PM, when I opened the email from my hairdresser, that this pandemic became very real. It was like how people remember where they were when Kennedy or Lennon or Reagan were shot. It took no time for my hair to declare a state of emergency. Women (and some men) gave each other nods of solidarity, silently acknowledging each other’s grey roots; this is when I truly understood the meaning of, “We’re all in this together.”

April merely happened. Our normally overflowing calendar was bare, and there was a feeling of numbness in the air, despite the improving weather. Everyone in our home was appreciative of being able to work online—well, not so much the kids, but adaptability became an oft-used word for all of us and for the rest of the world. On the news we saw people dying alone and spoke to friends who had lost someone dear, and we wept. We watched acts of bravery and self sacrifice, and we were moved to tears. We listened to President Trump consider injecting bleach as a means to kill the virus and we cried tears of laughter—and then we wept for our neighbours south of the border. In the aftermath of every Presidential press conference, the word we used was incredible. The flip side of all of these tragedies was the creativity that was born out of the boredom. Every social media site exploded with homemade and professional videos satirizing the bizarre circumstances in which we found ourselves. They made us laugh and brought us comfort by showing us that there were others out there facing the same challenges.

We listened to President Trump consider injecting bleach as a means to kill the virus and we cried tears of laughter—and then we wept for our neighbours south of the border

If we were to pick one word to represent our family on any given day, it would be play. We play sports and games as much as we possibly can, so when COVID-19 shut down our sports programs, we shuffled around like zombies until we bumped into golf—one of the few options available at the time. In May, we started to play so often that we eventually joined a small nine hole, par three course nearby and by the end of the summer had played close to 70 rounds! I have golfer’s elbow to prove it. I also have a sore wrist from repetitive dealing in over a hundred Euchre games and a stiff neck from leaning over a 500-piece puzzles depicting the Beatles’ White Album.

By June the conspiracy theorists were beyond frenzied. This was the BIG ONE—the one they had been predicting for decades: the key to Area 51. And while it’s not like they were actually celebrating a victory, I felt like I had to keep banging on the metaphorical adjoining bedroom wall to ask them to keep it down: “What, again? You just finished! Where do you find the energy?!”

The evidence of a global government and big pharma coup was finally palpable for them. The “leaked” and prepared videos and documents and covert language, which used to be only decoded by a few, were out in the open for all to see. Misinformation flirted with information, which was then censored, which then added another layer of conspiracy, and the cycle continued. They are convinced they’re right. I hope they’re not but the word conspiracy was often the subject line of my inbox.

In July the word was mask, as the government announced that face coverings were now mandatory in any indoor public space, and we adapted to that, too. I wore one when I got my hair done, which was the highlight of my month. Thank goodness businesses were up and running but gone were the smiles, hidden behind a protective veneer. Never before had we paid so much attention to eyes, relying on their twinkle and the crinkle around them as a substitute for the warmth and friendliness that a smile used to provide. Seeing my kids wearing face coverings gave me a feeling of lost innocence; in their experience, only the bad guys wore masks, but now everyone was hiding behind a disguise. As a protective mama bear, we rarely went anywhere where they had to wear one, not even to restaurants, although by July we also reinvested in takeout—you know, to support local business, and definitely not at all because anyone needed a break from my cooking.

August saw us maintaining our stay-cation mode, and stay-cation is the word of the month. We did manage three days at our brother-in-law’s cottage (for those were precise number of days when he wasn’t there) where we soaked up the sun and the beach and the change of scenery. It was a loaner and a much-appreciated respite from the Groundhog Days of the previous five months. There was no way to book a cottage of our own, just like there were no trampolines, bikes, basketball hoops, hot tubs, or exercise equipment to buy—everyone was trying to find ways to distract themselves from the lack of summer activities; meanwhile, the heat engulfed us like the insides of the sold-out pizza oven that we also missed out on during the pandemic buying spree. Some of our favourite sports opened up and our laundry increased proportionally, a sure sign of happiness in our house.

Suddenly September was upon us, and school openings procrastinated until mid-month, giving everyone ample time to worry about online or in-class learning. The word worry is another word that would be acceptable for any month this year, but I’ll apply it to September as we worried that the kids were going back to school, and then we worried that they might come back again. We gave our kids the choice, the response to which took about a millisecond. The subtext of their answer was, “Get me out of here so I can get back to my people, even if it means going back to school to do it!”

Off they went with backpacks and masks, going with the flow and playing along with their teachers to experiment with what worked and what didn’t in the new Trial and Error Education System. All that schoolin’ interfered with our golf and tennis games, but such is the sacrifice of the learned.

With October came Thanksgiving, and I began to refocus on what it is to be thankful. It’s too easy to slip into sentimentality or mourning for all that we’ve lost, and there has been so much loss—of life, of employment, of assurance, of comfort, of safety. And as I wrote this piece, I had to keep pulling myself up, back to a place of lightness and humour, my usual default. Sometimes it’s not so easy.

So I looked around for things that lifted my spirits, like the ridiculous Halloween light and inflatable display on Haist Street that I love so much. I hoped it would appear and it did not disappoint. Not everyone had given up on joy—like the shop owners and clerks who were smiling and helpful from behind their visors and plexiglass barriers, while I shopped for Thanksgiving dinner for four, instead of 24. Not everyone had given up on commitment and service—like the hospital and front line workers, who continued to work long hours and treat the sick and worried, even though we no longer banged our pots and pans in support of them each night. Not everyone had given up on dedication—like the volunteers who brought people food or medicine or the neighbour who checked in from six feet away. And not everyone had given up on compassion. There were signs of kindness everywhere, and while they’re not funny, they helped me move to a place of mindfulness and gratitude, which is the word for this month.

As our cases of COVID-19 went up in November, so did our Christmas decorations. Never have I seen such an early display of lights, Santas, reindeer, and Woody and Buzz decked out in holiday gear. Once again, Haist Street came through with enough candlepower to register on a passing satellite. People needed something to look forward to and preparing for Christmas scratched that itch, even though Christmas would be a very different event. For us, that gathering will duplicate Thanksgiving—party of four, please, no need for the valet parking. Our eldest son, out in Vancouver, will not be coming home for the holiday for the first time due to travel restrictions, which breaks our hearts, but it’s for the greater good, and we were buoyed somewhat by the rumours of a few vaccines racing to the finish line. I’m not sure which we were more excited about, however—the vaccine or Biden’s win in the election. The implications of both bring a sense of confidence in the future and we hope they will be equally effective in restoring sanity after the chaos of 2020.

December 14: the first vaccine had been administered in Ontario. There are many words to describe this event and this month: hope, relief, scepticism, impatience, resistance (can’t forget the conspiracy folks), fear, fatigue. For most, it is the Christmas present they’ve been waiting for. For others, it came too late. At least almost all of us could celebrate that Joe Biden won the election again this month. This December was also the 40th anniversary of John Lennon’s death and his words are more meaningful than ever:

And so this is Christmas

I hope you have fun

The near and the dear one

The old and the young

A very merry Christmas

And a happy New Year

Let’s hope it’s a good one

Without any fear

When I asked my son to come up with one word to describe this year, his reply wasn’t pandemic or Covid or even Kung Flu; it was family. We are one of the lucky ones to have made it through this year relatively unscathed—that we still not only love each other, but actually like each other, is a bonus. After 11 months together in close proximity, we know each other so well that we often finish each other’s…sandwiches (a running joke in the house).

I’m trying to think of what next year’s word could be. After the bizarre events of this year, there’s no telling, but I do hope with all my heart that it’s HUG! I look forward to hugging all the people all the time so don’t shy away if I come at you on the street.

Folks, we’ve all been in this together for some time, now let’s all get out of it together, too. I hope that you can find happiness in your holiday, and much love in your New Year, and that Biden wins the election again in January. ◆