2020 Never Ended

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A surreal street scene with a large, melting clock face hanging from a street lamp post. The clock displays the time as just past 10:10 and the year 2020. The background features foggy city streets with silhouettes of buildings, bare trees, and a snow-covered ground, creating a cold and deserted atmosphere.

I just finished How to Human by Carlos Whittaker. While, not the point of the book, a thesis within it is that 2020 — and all that 2020 was — made so many of us forget how human.

We forgot that it is a human instinct to help each other. 

We forgot to put empathy over politics.

We forgot how to be generous to everybody, and not just those from our own tribe. 

It is a very optimistic take on the last few years: the idea that the social and political climate that we live in today — which is more toxic than that any other time in living memory — is an output of the disaster that was 2020.

Reading this section of the book made me realize that in many ways I feel like 2020 never ended for me.:

  • My primary office is still my bedroom. 
  • The racial discussions that began in 2020 are unresolved and still part of my life.
  • The political environment is crazier, more malicious, more dangerous, and more divisive among friends and close community than it was in 2019 (which is saying something.)
  • The 2020 presidential campaign never actually ended.

My mind is never too far away from a hair-trigger. I feel like I struggle to ever really embrace the good things coming in the not-near future. I can see good things 4-8 weeks away but anything further out gets demoted by my attention which is more attuned to anything going wrong now, or that might go wrong, or that I just don’t think will go right.

If a few years ago I had vision to see a mile ahead in life it is now down to a couple hundred yards, past that there is only fog that always looks dark. Not because life is that uncertain, because I am unable emotionally to process what will happen beyond that.

In my mind, yesterday is always lockdown, George Floyd, January 6th, the Ukraine war, keeping a small business afloat during COVID, getting COVID, up-ending how I do all of life. Today I need to get through today, and I’ll worry about tomorrow, tomorrow because I don’t have any energy left today.*

Anything good that happened in that time (and there was a lot for me) is somehow moved from the main story line of my life to the appendix as I re-read it in my mind.

I didn’t even realize how much I thought this way until getting through the first chapter or two of the book. 

Wow, looking back at what I just wrote, sounds a little like PTSD, eh?

A few paragraphs ago this post was more of a public-journaling exercise: I did not plan out a conclusion, just a description of my own life and thoughts.

But if my experience in any way matches yours, then maybe Carlos is right: many of us are still dealing with trauma — not of any one thing but of all the things — that cloud our feelings, our perception and our judgement. 

I think our deeply inhuman response to everything that happened in 2020 left the deepest mark and, for some, the deepest wounds. The year 2020 jacked up humanity. It threw many of us off course, and the problem is that we can’t seem to rebound… it still feels like most of us got knocked off course and can’t find our way back. I’m still processing. Still working to understand. Maybe you are too? Why? Because 2020 was about so much more than 2020.

Carlos Whittaker, How to Human

Maybe in trying to cut through the fog we have forgotten “how to human,” as instead we find ourselves in a low-state of anxiety about everything. 

Carlos has a prescription for us — if you want it listen to the book, it’s only six hours — but this is my first step. Acknowledging through writing, the effects that 2020 is still having on me. Not just reverberations, a very much right-now-still-in-the-present effects.

My second step is to end 2020. Maybe not in 2021. Or 2022. Or 2023. More like April of 2024.

Then I can start a new year.

*Not like the birds of the air here, it’s just anxiety all around.


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