Apodaca: 2020 was the year that everything broke

a glass of champagne
The New Year is on its way, but there might not yet be cause for celebration as the issues that boiled up in 2020 linger, writes columnist Patrice Apodaca.
(File Photo)

It started in the laundry room, with floodwaters surging from the washing machine as reliably as the tide.

Then the sounds emanating from the dryer escalated from a mildly annoying squeak to a banshee-like screech. Not long after, the refrigerator went kaput, the hot water heater needed a new burner and the vacuum cleaner began signaling its imminent demise.

Our appliances were telling us something.

The turning of a new year is meant to be a time of reflection and renewal, a moment we have designated to try to make sense of what we recently experienced, clean the slate and move forward with conviction and promise.

Historians will no doubt look back upon 2020 as one of the most consequential years in modern times. They will dissect the causes and effects of the global pandemic — as well as this year’s political upheaval, economic strife, environmental degradation and social justice protests — for decades or even centuries to come.

Somehow they will try to explain what it all meant and, with the perspective of hindsight, attempt to put a name on a year that feels so raw and unrelentingly wearisome as we come to its end.

But for all the scholarly papers that will be written to explain what happened to us this year, I offer a clear and succinct summation inspired by my household machinery.

The year 2020 was the year that everything broke.

Make no mistake, the fault lines had been there for a very long time. This year merely exposed the fragility of our existence, how delicate are the bonds that hold us together.

In service of my personal New Year’s inventory, I decided to refresh my memory by reviewing the journal I began keeping at the beginning of the pandemic.

For a while, I had been obsessed with animals.

I wrote about the snake I nearly stepped on while out walking my dog, the birds that occasionally flew into our house, the coyotes howling at night, and the multitude of lizards with freakishly long tails that looked like escapees from a top-secret lab.

For a few days I fixated on a couple of ducks that took up temporary residence in front of my house, hanging out under our cars, drinking the radioactive gutter juice and pooping on the sidewalk. Whenever a human approached, they bolted. OK, maybe “bolt” is stretch; their top waddling speed was somewhere between a snail and sloth.

Then there was the time that my husband went all Mr. McGregor. But instead of chasing Peter Rabbit he wielded a golf club with a head the size of a pit bull skull to try to shoo away the fattest squirrel I’d ever seen, whose corpulence no doubt stemmed in part from the many garden plants it had ravaged.

Apparently my lockdown brain drew some connection between our broken appliances and all these creatures, as if they were part of a supernatural conspiracy warning of some lurking danger. Never mind Beatrix Potter and her beloved children’s tales — spending too much time at home during a global pandemic had me fantasizing that my life had turned into the plot of a Stephen King novel.

So what can we expect from 2021? Even many so-called “thought leaders,” who are usually never short on opinions and prognostications, appear a bit stumped by that question.

So what can we expect from 2021?

Even many so-called “thought leaders,” who are usually never short on opinions and prognostications, appear a bit stumped by that question.

Certainly it will be different. No, we can’t expect that when the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve everything will suddenly appear rosier, or at least less broken. Indeed, the darkest days of the pandemic could linger far beyond that mythical magic moment.

Yet with vaccine distribution beginning, we can expect that at some point in the year we’ll be able to crawl out of our caves and resume activities that have largely been off limits in 2020. What remains to be seen is which, and how deeply, parts of our lives will be forever altered.

I imagine that some habits might be hard to shake even after the crisis fades. Pants without zippers? Check. Bike rides in pajama bottoms? Check. Binge-watching Netflix without guilt? Double check.

More crucially, many observers are voicing suspicions that the pandemic will result in significant, long-term changes in a broad spectrum of industries and institutions, including air travel, education, healthcare, retail, urban design and ground transportation. I’ll certainly have no shortage of topics to write about next year.

As the virus begins to fade, which will hopefully happen soon, perhaps we can look at 2021 as a year of repair, a healing time when we can turn to mending not just the nation’s public health, but also the strained finances, frayed relationships and wounded psyches that have dominated our lives so cruelly this year.

Doing so will require will, ingenuity and patience. It will take putting aside our differences and working together to rebuild and restore. We’ll have to start trusting each other a little more.

Can we manage all that?

We don’t really have a choice. After all, we know that broken things can be fixed. But as we turn the clock forward and welcome a new year, we must recognize that it’s up to each of us to do the fixing.

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