One of the more interesting aspects of this year, at least from what others say, is that there is a big hurry on the part for people to see 2020 as over. Whether I am listening to people who judge the music of the Billboard music year in their end of year videos or looking at the social media posts of friends, it appears as if it is universally wished that 2020 and what it means would quickly vanish into the memory hole, no longer to be more than an unpleasant tale of survival that one can share with friends or mention as the standard for a truly rock bottom year. And yet, I don’t feel that way at all. To be sure, there are a few more days of the year so far, so this is perhaps a bit premature, but at least insofar as I regard the years of my life, 2020 is an average year in terms of my own rating for how the year has gone. This fills me with a certain degree of amusement, in that what is for me a year that ranks as a solid C- to C by the standard I judge my years as I have experienced them would be viewed nearly universally as one of the worst years in recent memory. Does it simply mean that the rest of the world cannot handle an ordinary Nathanish year? The implications of that are truly very worthwhile to ponder.
It is easy to see why most of the world would consider 2020 to have been a terrible year. Even by my own modest standards of how I live my life, 2020 was certainly a very lonely and isolated year even by the fairly lonely and isolated standards of my life. Indeed, that is what accounts for it being a C to C- at all. There were no concerts to go to, no open movie theaters, no open restaurants, and the like for the greater part of this year. My year began with a bit of car trouble that culminated in some expensive repairs that ended up requiring the replacement of a catalytic converter in my car during the early part of the quarantine period that limited my mobility and traveling in the time just before it became troublesome for anyone to travel at all, but even so I was still able to see a couple of friends of mine be married just before everything got closed down. While there have been plenty of deaths in 2020, and while a few friends of mine did have to deal with some cases of Covid themselves, it was not at least within my own social circle a year that had more deaths than usual, even if there were some, lamentably. I was still able to go to the Feast of Tabernacles in Jamaica, even if there were a lot of hoops to jump through and travel was spotty. Throughout the year I managed to stay personally safe despite the political violence in the Portland area and was able to be productive reading, writing, and working as usual even if in a more isolated fashion than usual.
Obviously not everyone else feels the same way. For some, the rather indecisive end to a nasty political campaign and an overhyped pandemic that is nowhere near as bad as the influenza pandemic at the end of World War I has made this a historically bad year. And to that I can only say that this year is by no means even remotely as bad as a year can be. That is not to say that I want it to be worse in the future, only that viewing 2020 as the gold standard of bad years is not likely to be a very good way to prepare for a future that could very easily be worse. For all of the difficulties we faced as a society this year, we still have functioning logistics systems that provide us with food and medicine, we still have a (barely) functioning political system, we would still be able to live our lives in a free fashion without the interference of incompetent paternalistic political elites, and even with economic issues most of us are still able to cope with jobs and food. We still buy stuff online, we can still get books at the library, things are not nearly as bad as they could be.
If you want a gold standard to how bad a year can be, it would be worthwhile to see what happened to the Jews and other peoples of Eastern Europe between Germany and the Soviet Union in the period between 1933 and 1945, where the only disputes are over who had a more disastrous time of it. You have Ukraine losing a massive amount of its population to a political famine, the horrors of the Great Purge, political tensions in Poland and the Baltic States ending in a combined free-for-all between two of the worst regimes in human history in Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, culminating in the slaughter of local elites, the Jews in general, as well as the massive rape, expropriation, and exile of the region’s residual German population, a wholesale change of borders to justify the massive violence, and an area where tens of millions of people died in a period of just a few years, with the destruction of their ways of life and their culture and civilizations. Compared to that, 2020 is not worthy of complaint. Until and unless we have a year where we are forcibly exiled from our homes as a best case scenario when compared with being killed in an purge or executed in a death camp or sent to die miserably as a slave in a gulag or a concentration camp, where our culture is exterminated and our lands are seized and given to others, and where being a penniless refugee half a world away is by far the best thing that could happen to us given the circumstances, we have no right to complain about a year like 2020.
I don’t want to feel as if I am being particularly tough-minded to say such things. I am sure that there are people who have had a worse 2020 than I have. That said, if this is a year that did not offer much in the way of pleasure, it did at least have the pleasure of productive work, having a full belly, and enjoying the company of friends, even if I missed the chance to see my family as often as I would have liked. Being quarantined with hardly anywhere to go did not, sadly, affect my love life in any way except for giving me a good reason why it had little reason to change in a positive way. And for all of the tension of the year with regards to the state of the larger world, I did at least see that the homes of friends of mine threatened with massive fires were preserved safe and sound. There is a lot to be thankful for, and it does not require a great deal to be thankful at the preservation of the life and property and well-being of myself and friends and family, all things considered. It is easy for me to imagine (and remember) years where my own life was far more unpleasant and which presented deep horrors that 2020 simply did not approach. I do not say this to brag, I only say this to remind those who feel as if 2020 is the worst thing that they have never experienced that it is not too hard for things to be vastly worse. If 2020 is the worst year you have ever seen, thank heaven above that it has provided you with a chance to learn some resilience. For some of us, myself included, 2020 is basically the way that most years feel, more or less. And things can be much, much worse.