Opinion

If you’re reading this, you made it. You survived 2020. Gold stars for all.

This year was, by most measures, the strangest, darkest timeline. A global pandemic upended our lives and rendered them unrecognizable. COVID-19 took away people’s lives and livelihoods.

If you’re reading this, you made it. You survived 2020. Gold stars for all.

This year was, by most measures, the strangest, darkest timeline. A global pandemic upended our lives and rendered them unrecognizable. COVID-19 took away people’s lives and livelihoods.

And let us not forget that this was also the year that Election Day turned into Election Month in the United States; Prince Harry quit the royal family; Kobe Bryant, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Chadwick Boseman and Eddie Van Halen died; and the heartbreaking photos of bewildered, bandaged koalas and terrifying orange skies out of Australia, which was on fire, became something of a harbinger of all to come.

I know what you’re thinking and yes, that was all this year. Along with a bunch of other things we absolutely did not have on our 2020 bingo cards, including murder hornets and zombie minks.

It stands to reason that a year in which hugging loved ones became a potentially deadly activity should be crowned the worst. We’re collectively grieving so many losses — huge and small. And 2020 made us feel a lot of things, including sad, angry, frustrated, bored, scared — but also joyful, hopeful and, maybe above all, grateful. This is not meant as a Pollyanna sentiment — the pandemic has been as divisive as it has been unifying. But there were glimmers of good in the form of perspectives shifted and behaviours changed.

In a normal year, the last week of December in the Arts & Life department means lists. So here’s one: Six Positive Things That Happened This Year.

We adapted

This year made us realize that work doesn’t have to happen in an office, exercise doesn’t have to happen in a gym, and school doesn’t have to happen in a classroom. The pandemic asked us to roll with so much, but we were able to see that we can cope. Some people even found freedom in flexibility. We adopted new behaviours in record time: better handwashing, masking, distancing. We figured out new ways to run our businesses and make our art. We thought about what the "new normal" might look like, and how many of our social structures — specifically how we care for our very old and our very young — desperately need to be overhauled. We saw that so long as there’s political will, there’s financial assistance for those who are struggling. We kept going, even when it felt like we couldn’t.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Frank Conway fat bikes along the Seine River near John Bruce Park.</p>

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Frank Conway fat bikes along the Seine River near John Bruce Park.

We went outside

Being outdoors is good for both our mental and physical health — and, in the context of a pandemic, being outdoors was also one of the few places we could interact with one another more safely. People took up biking and gardening, patios became a lifeline for local restaurants, walks in nature were a salve. Everything from bikes to kayaks became as hard to find as toilet paper was in March. The closures of Wellington Crescent, Wolseley Avenue and several other Winnipeg roadways to vehicular traffic during the summer showed Winnipeg the possibilities for active transportation in this city. We started thinking about our relationship to our environment.

We started the hard work

In May, George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man from Minneapolis, was brutally killed by police, igniting a summer of protest. Too many Black people have been murdered by police officers; too many Black people have uttered the chilling sentence, "I can’t breathe." The Black Lives Matter movement spread all over North America, kicking in the door for necessary, difficult and often painful conversations about racism at all levels — personal, institutional, cultural — as well as a critical examination of policing in both the U.S. and Canada. It should not have taken a Black man gasping his last breath under the knee of a cop to get here, but collective and active engagement in anti-racism work means his death — and the deaths of so many others, including Breonna Taylor, a Black woman who was also killed by police in 2020 — won’t be in vain.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Winnipeggers gather for the daily Justice 4 Black Lives rally outside the Canadian Museum For Human Rights in June.</p>

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Winnipeggers gather for the daily Justice 4 Black Lives rally outside the Canadian Museum For Human Rights in June.

Not a single person asked me "how are the first few bites tasting?"

My goodness, I miss restaurants. I miss eating beautiful food with wonderful people. I miss splitting dessert or ordering an evening-stretching cappuccino or an ill-advised school-night nightcap — things that can’t be packed up in takeout boxes. But I don’t miss this question, not because I don’t like attentive service, but because I tend to hoover my food like an anteater raised in a family of 15. My first few bites are often my last few bites. I’m working on it.

We showed up for ourselves

The pandemic forced many of us to slow down. Though "hustle and grind" wasn’t perfectly replaced by "relax and unwind" — pandemics are stressful, it turns out, but they also have a way of clearing the calendar. Confined to their homes, people were given space in their days to establish home workout routines, or cultivate hobbies that aren’t side businesses, or engage in the kind of unstructured play often reserved for children: drawing, doing puzzles, reading for pleasure. We started to have meaningful discussions about the cult of productivity and measuring one’s self-worth by how much one produces, and why we are not our jobs. Some of us even learned to rest.

We took care of each other

We took care of each other by supporting local businesses and restaurants. Elsewhere, we took care of each other by sharing memes and TikTok videos, by doomscrolling together and commiserating about Zoom fatigue and at-home haircuts. We checked in. We stayed connected. Every time we sacrificed precious time with family and friends in the name of greater-good public health, we took care of each other. And every time we put on a mask, washed our hands, kept our distance and stayed home, we took care of each other.

jen.zoratti@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @JenZoratti

Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti
Columnist

Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and co-host of the paper's local culture podcast, Bury the Lede.

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