The Year We covered Our Faces.
2020 is the Year when life as we knew it suddenly went on pause and for many, it has proved to be an exhausting and an isolated time.
It was all so sudden this disruption after the festivities of Christmas and New Year when we revelled in being with family and friends and cheered in 2020 with gusto. 2020, it had such a nice ring to it, all those neat even numbers and the promise of a year filled with significant events, the Olympics, the prospect of travel to foreign lands, a spectacular World Expo and, much, much more.
In the future, this otherwise cool combination of digits will evoke reactions similar to those of a curse.
In late January, we became vaguely aware of a city in China; Wuhan where a mysterious virus had broken out that was causing some concern. At the time it was a news item buried deep within in the 24 -hour news cycle and one to be ignored for there were no blaring headlines to set off alarm bells.
Within just six short weeks, the words COVID 19 had immersed themselves into virtually every conversation around the globe. This microscopic virus broke free of the wet markets of Wuhan and began to gallop at full tilt, not just across China as it crossed borders with reckless abandon and imposed itself on every country on earth.
Now, we are almost through 2020 and are still in the grips of a worldwide pandemic meaning its hard to see the glass as half full or make lemonade out of lemons.
But, we try. And, of course, there is always hope.
2020 has been cruel with so many having lost loved ones, millions are struggling, many feel sad, scared, frustrated and broken. "It's OK not to be OK right now and just to do your best to get through this truly unprecedented time," said C. Vaile Wright, director of clinical research and quality at the American Psychological Association.
As with any bad times, there are always silver linings as out of this dreadful coronavirus has come creativity and even though quarantine was and is frustrating and at times immensely lonely, it offered so much more time to spend with loved ones.
Spare a thought for the animals. How have they coped?
While we binged on Netflix, animals came out to play, roaming empty streets as we humans were the ones locked up. I marvelled at a photograph back in March of goats making merry on the deserted streets of a town in Wales while across the world in Thailand, Macaques romped joyously around an empty Koh Samui.
It was as if they were rejoicing in the absence of humans.
During the closure of Hong Kong's Ocean Park Zoo due to the coronavirus, their prized pandas, Ying Ying and Le Le who had studiously ignored each other for ten years were caught on video having a damn good shag. Perhaps there are a few benefits to be had out of lockdown given their show of intimacy which was probably because they didn't have thousands of homo sapiens staring at them seven days a week.
Delightful stories such as these often fell through the media cracks which was a shame as, on most days we needed, and still do need uplifting moments to cope with the sameness of each day that dawns and stretches relentlessly out until nightfall.
Then came the advent of 'working from home.'
For years, people have bleated on about the benefits of working from home, such as avoiding the tedious commute to the office, increased productivity, and an enhanced work-life balance. Well, that pesky virus arrived and accelerated this concept forcing companies to shutter their workspaces and send their employees home and, in doing so ushered in a new era of mass telecommuting.
It was a big adjustment as many were uncomfortable and a little unmotivated by rolling out of bed and stumbling to their desks for that early morning Zoom sales meeting.
Ten months on and we find that millions of office workers are dreading the thought of returning to the office five days a week. Many of the larger corporations are now deciding to make this a more permanent arrangement once the pandemic ends, allowing their entire workforce to work remotely.
This new arrangement has caused shudders among corporate landlords that ripples like an earth tremor through the metropolises around the globe.
Lately, I increasingly hear the expression, "when things return to normal" which to tell the truth is something I am not looking forwards to. Normal delivered us Brexit and ushered in Donald Trump, Bolsonaro and a host of populist leaders across the world. Normal was the explosion of the rampant corruption infusing the political system by big money, rigging the deck in favour of the ultra-wealthy. Normal was ignoring famines and regional conflicts in beleaguered countries. Normal will be dealing with an ever-worsening climate change whether we like it or not.
So, as we head once again into the yuletide festival, I believe that we have to dig deep within ourselves and extract some positivity from this upside-down world. We will recover, we will embrace a new era, and even though 2020 was filled with sadness and despair, we are a committed species and if anything we will learn from these dark times.
As I look at my mask hanging from the doorknob, I dream of not having to pick it up and cover my face as I leave the sanctuary of my home. Soon, hopefully, I will be able to dispense with this piece of fabric and be able to smile at strangers and to receive a smile in return.
We can only hope.
Paul v Walters is the best selling author of several novels and anthologies of short stories. When he is not cocooned in sloth and procrastination in his house in Bali, he occasionally rises to scribble for several international travel and vox pop journals.