Monday, December 28, 2020

Hindsight is 2020

As 2020 comes to a close, now seems like a good time to look back at a year like no other.

It's been a while since we've had such
a "White Christmas."
I'm going to start this by mentioning that I don't know how much biking material will be in this post. We had a big winter storm come through our area beginning on the night of Christmas Eve, dumping over a foot of snow, and that meant no Christmas bike ride this year. Even now, on the Monday after, my street is still a thick sheet of ice since no city snowplows ever rolled through my neighborhood. We are low priority, I guess.

Sorry to say, but the Covid-19 pandemic will NOT be over when the new year is rung in. It's crazy to think about the fact that it started almost a full year ago, first being reported in China last January - though it didn't really come to dominate our news and our lives until March when everything shut down. More than 300,000 people have died here in the U.S. since then, and the spike in cases is far beyond what it was back in March. Hospitals across the country are overwhelmed and healthcare workers are exhausted and desperate. Yet somehow there are huge swaths of the American public who refuse to even believe that it's real - even when they're dying from it. Without getting too specifically into the politics of it, I'll just say that the national-level response has been a disgrace. And the state-level response, depending on the state, has been equally pathetic. I felt pretty good about the response by our Governor here in Ohio, at least early on. But when our state's excellent health director started getting death threats and had to resign as a result, the state response has become much more anemic.

Prior to the coronavirus, most of my posts at the beginning of 2020 dealt with my project of restoring this beautiful vintage Specialized Sequoia. I had just finished it when everything "hit the fan."

I was looking back at my blog posts from the past year, and mentions of the virus come up in the majority of them, beginning in March ("Corona Virus Blues") and continuing right up to now. There are posts about working from home, working on bike-related projects during the shutdown, a Covid-19 bike boom, and escaping the quarantine by bike. It's kind of funny to think that someday those posts could be part of some future historian's study of life during the pandemic. A modern Journal of the Plague Year, if you will, as I'm reminded of Samuel Pepys, or Daniel Defoe, in that regard.

The pandemic has already changed many things about our culture and society - both for better AND worse. I'm saddened to think of all the businesses, particularly restaurants and small family-owned businesses, that have either closed or will close before it's all over. I'm frustrated at the way fake news and conspiracy theories have replaced reputable news and common sense as the guiding forces of so many people. I'm concerned that the pandemic has really exposed the serious weaknesses and inherent inequalities in our systems, including economic, political, and healthcare - and I fear that the people who benefit from those weaknesses and inequalities will prevent anything from making them better. I'm not an optimist, and I haven't been since 1992 (yes, I can actually pin it down that specifically).

But have there been any good things to come out of this dumpster fire of a year?

Well, I think it has made people (at least some people) consider what is really important. For every one selfish and ignorant person who refuses to wear a mask because of a twisted and self-indulgent interpretation of "freedom," there are perhaps several more who are making sacrifices to help an elderly neighbor. I think a lot of people have gained more appreciation for family, and cherishing whatever time they are able to spend together.

I've hated many aspects of trying to teach remotely - but I've loved the fact that I've been able to see my wife and my own children so much more during the day (in between our various zoom meetings, etc.). I know that when I do have to return to work, that will be something I will miss.

And, as was mentioned in the post about a pandemic "bike boom" - it seems that a lot of people have come to rediscover the joys of riding a bike. Being stuck indoors has made people crave some kind of release, and bicycling turned out to be a great way to find it. Living so close to a national park, I could see firsthand how people were flocking to the park to enjoy the simple pleasures of a hike or a bike ride through our natural resources.

Here's another thing: people have been driving less, and there has been a marked improvement in the quality of air and water in some places. I wouldn't be surprised if car-related fatalities for 2020 show a significant dip compared to previous years, too.

There is a vaccine now, which means we can almost see a light at the end of the tunnel. But the challenge, as I see it, is staying healthy until one can actually get the dose, and that could take months. When that time finally comes - maybe some time next summer - when we can feel comfortable enough to sit in a theater, or a restaurant - when we can hug that friend or relation without hesitating - when we can begin to feel "normal" again - what will we do? How will we respond? Will we be ready to to make serious changes to our addiction to oil? Will we finally be ready to address issues of inequity and very real weaknesses in our safety net and access to health care? Will people keep riding those bikes they bought - or shove them back down in the basement?

The Anglo-Saxons of the so-called "dark ages" believed in something they called "Wyrd." It's from this word that we got the modern-English word "weird" (and why, incidentally, Shakespeare's witches in Macbeth were called the "Weird Sisters"). The belief in Wyrd was essentially that the skein of any person's fate was woven long before they were born, and nothing they do can change the outcome. But even as we cannot change the outcome of our fate, we can control our response to it -- and it is our response to it that determines what kind of person we are, and the way we will be remembered. This past year has been a reminder that life can sometimes deal us things that we simply can't control. But we can always control how we respond to them. How will future generations view our response to this very weird 2020?


  1. I live two blocks from a major NYC hospital. A friend of mine is a nurse there. Not surprisingly, she disappeared in March. I feared the worst; when I saw her again, in October, she looked about ten years older than she did at the beginning of the year. "COVID's no joke," she said. She should know: She was the last person a few people saw before their bodies ended up in those refrigerated trucks most of people saw in news reports, but I passed by almost daily.

    The folks who still don't believe that this pandemic is real remind me of the ones who insisted (and, I'm sure, still insist) that 9/11 didn't happen. Actually, I'd bet that many of them are the same people.

    Thank you for making this year a little more tolerable--and for your help during my own mini-catastrophe!

  2. The title made me smile in spite of the sobering content.

  3. A well stated blog post, here's hoping that 2021 will start heading the other way before it's over, we've shown the best and much more the worse side of us but once we heal physically hopefully we can heal as a Nation. Take care, Ride Safe and try to have a bit of FUN! :)

  4. Here in April, I hope things are improving for everyone your side of the pond. We are tentatively coming out of it in the UK, but the fresh new threat of the India Variant is rising slowly. We are not there yet. Frightening times. I love your blog, found it when I was trying to find the name of the leaflet Yehuda Moon reads in the comic (love that, too) I can also testify to the increase in bike use here. All of our major bike sellers sold out nationally...Nationally! You couldn't get parts, you couldn't get inner tubes - imagine that? We still have lots of cyclists out, I'm hoping they keep going.