Give yourself a pat on the back — 2020 is over

We should be proud of how far we’ve come

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Parker Peters / Daily Collegian

By Max Schwartz, Collegian Columnist

I woke up flummoxed on the morning of Dec. 22, 2012 to a sky that was still blue, grass that was still green and sidewalks that were still beige. I’d been convinced that the night before would be my last, that Judgment Day had come, that planet Earth would cease to exist before the year 2013 had even begun.

The end of the world felt both real and fake, exciting yet scary, the end of it all and the beginning of something new. This past year felt like that night when I thought life as I knew it would come to a halt, the whites of my eyes reflecting my surroundings as everything around me combusts, and then, poof! It’d all be gone.

The world, however, didn’t end. This floating rock hasn’t sunk; most of us are still here.

A decade after life was supposed to end, our wits are being tested again, this time by a pandemic. 2020 felt like 24 months because so much has happened. Americans saw the fall of a quasi-tyrant, Australian bushes caught on fire and Brexit finally happened. For a while it had felt like “the end” was out on a smoke break, but this twilight zone of a year seemed to show that it was back on duty.

Much of this past year has been focused on how life kicked us to the curb and left us for dead; very few have noticed that we took this beating and survived to tell the tale. The coronavirus pandemic transcended borders, race, identity and class and proved that no one was invincible. Yet, so many of us persevered. As the fastest-made vaccines roll out and daily death tolls decline, I think we may finally see the light at the end of this vast, seemingly unbounded tunnel.

These successes couldn’t have been achieved without the collaboration of doctors, students and teachers, front-line workers and everyday citizens. As a nation, so many of us came together to practice our democratic liberties and vote. More than 159 million Americans voted in the presidential election this past year, the highest voter turnout in the history of the United States.

At the same time, there were tragedies and outrages. Parts of royal family disbanded. Kobe Bryant passed away. Donald Trump got impeached not once, but twice. The stock market fell as the price of hand sanitizer went up. Halloween was canceled but masks were in season year-round. Harvey Weinstein went to jail around the same time Epstein left it. Justice was served and then justices die, and yet justice prevailed.

It’s easy to lose sight of the madness we’ve overcome, but I urge you all to take a moment to recognize how far we’ve come. Coul you have even conceived the future that lay ahead of you just 15 months ago?

It sounds sappy and a tad idealistic coming from a college student who has only experienced so much of “the real world,” but there’s truth to my admittedly romantic view of this crisis. I went from spending my college years like everybody else to writing narrative obituaries for victims of a global pandemic. I really thought this world would go easy on me the same way it did on that winter night in 2012.

This past year has taught me two lessons. The first is that nothing is definite. The second is that everybody dies. If this period has taught me anything, it’s to recognize these two absolutes and not to question them.

I’ve hated these past 12 months, but I also wouldn’t trade them for the world. I gained so much knowledge, learned grit Christopher McCandless would envy, heard stories that made me cry and cried about stories I had to tell. My parents lived through wars, their parents lived through Nazi occupation, and now it was my turn to understand the trivial existence of this thing we call “living.”

Sitting in my room and staring at my dark blue walls thinking about the ways life screwed me over didn’t help my mental health. But we’ve come this far, and our story has only just begun. Be proud of yourself and live a little before you lose your chance.

For all we know, the Mayans may have just mixed up the years.

Max Schwartz can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @maxwschwartz.