In December, we asked people to share personal stories of their experience in 2020. Here’s what they had to say:
Reflections on 2020
By Amanda Hagood
This is a picture of me, my son and our cats on the “first day of school.” Since my husband and I both teach on a semester system, we have at least three first days of school among us, and it has become a favorite tradition to capture all the energy and excitement of those days by gathering the family for a portrait. The pictures are always a little goofy, but there’s just something over-the-top about this one: Notice how Elmo is peering creepily over my shoulder? How my son has something mushy and unidentifiable in his mouth? How our walrus-like cats are about to pirouette through the air like some kind of homemade Salvador Dalí tribute? And my face! What’s that emotion on my face? Is it glee? Is it terror? I’ll tell you what it is: it’s 2020.
This picture, which was in fact taken in January 2020, really sums up what this annus horibilis (stop smirking) has been like, for us at least. First of all, everything’s too busy! Our spring semester transformed from a normal one to a 24-hour-Waffle House when, over the course of two weeks, our school went entirely remote and our son finally got his wish of staying home all day, every day, with Mom and Dad. We juggled as best we could our two worlds: one of classes, grading, and meetings and another of bike rides, telling stories, and enough craft activities to finally exhaust my vast sequin collection. There were inevitably moments when the two spheres collided. Like that time the internet service went out while we were both teaching the same class and when we finally got back into the Zoom meeting with all my confused students my son cried, real loud, “Mommy, I’ve poooooped!” And the awkward minutes that followed.
Which brings me to my second point about this picture and this year: Life has become more awkward. This year has brought so many occasions when my typical repertoire of behaviors just wasn’t up to the task. Visiting a relative you haven’t seen in a year? Great! Just don’t hug them, sit near them or talk in their direction. Want to take your son to the playground? Fine, but only if there aren’t other kids around. Greeting a neighbor, or even just asking for help in the hardware store? Say it with your eyes, because mouth communication has become unreliable. Meeting your newborn nephew over FaceTime? You’d better gesticulate wildly, ‘cause babies know what dogs know: If you don’t smell like anything, you’re not real.
And what it boils down to, for us at least, is: We need to go sit in our quiet chairs. So far, we have been sheltered from the worst effects – just one case of the virus in our extended family, and only a few of us with major changes in employment. We have learned to keep calm and carry on through the deluge of infections, deaths, instabilities and insanities all around us. But then, something as trivial as burning dinner launches me into twenty minutes of weeping and gnashing my teeth. There’s so much to process, some new outrageous thing, or unanticipated problem to solve, every day. I know the madness won’t end with 2020, just as the impact of the virus won’t end with the vaccine. But I hope our 2021 picture looks a little different. I hope this year will be calmer, kinder and more patient. I hope we can shift the focus from “getting back to normal” and “having it all” to protecting and nurturing the things that really matter, including the strength of our communities and our own mental health. Now that would be something to smile about.