The year 2020 was the craziest and saddest year in memory. If you are reading this, congratulations, you made it through.
I believe that 2020 becomes a signature year, right alongside 1066 (Norman invasion), 1492 (Columbus sails to the Americas), 1776 (Declaration of Independence), 1865 (end of the Civil War), 1945 (end of World War II), and 1969 (moon landing).
It is still difficult to process what happened in the last year. The events of the year run together and seem almost too unbelievable to be true. The year 2020 will long be remembered and studied as a year when our most fundamental institutions were tested like never before.
The Australian bushfires were the first major news story to catch my attention. It was sad to watch the bushfires destroy the Australian countryside. Images of wildlife rescue workers carrying injured koalas and kangaroos filled the television news. The bushfires started during late 2019 but peaked in early 2020. Ultimately, the bushfires destroyed more than 47 million acres, thousands of homes and an untold amount of Australian wildlife. Little did any of us know then that this year would be overflowing with a mixture of crazy and sad.
While bushfires raged across the Australian countryside in early 2020, a mysterious new respiratory virus swept through China. Intelligence reports began to emerge out of China that were deeply disturbing, but for the most part, the world was still oblivious to the dramatic challenges that would be coming.
On Feb. 2, 2020, the Kansas City Chiefs won Super Bowl LIV. The Chiefs came from behind and defeated the New England Patriots 31-20. The stadium was packed with thousands of fans. Super Bowl parties were hosted in homes across America. I found Super Bowl LIV an exciting and enjoyable game, but it seems like it was played another lifetime ago now. As best I can remember, this was the last normal major event.
Then, March 11, 2020 happened, and the world turned upside down. On that day, the World Health Organization declared the new virus a global pandemic and Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert and actor Tom Hanks tested positive for the novel virus. The news rocked the professional sports world and Hollywood. The NBA announced it was suspending its season. The Dow Jones Industrial Average responded by falling 1,465 points that day, entering a bear market.
For a little while, I hoped that COVID-19 would not reach our little corner of the world, but that was not the case. I can remember watching the local news as new cases of the virus were slowly confirmed in every county of Mississippi. National news programs began started a virus “cases and deaths box” in the corner of the television screen. For people of a certain era, this undoubtedly brought back memories of Walter Cronkite announcing the casualty count every night during the Vietnam War.
Our lifestyles were substantially disrupted in 2020. Simple routines like work, school and shopping changed. American passports, once our ticket to travel the world, became worthless. We saw mass cancellations and postponement of events and the largest economic recession since the Great Depression. Entire industries closed down. Especially hard hit were hair salons and barber shops, gyms, restaurants, bars, movie theaters and cruise ships. Millions of people lost jobs. Millions of more Americans began to work from home. A new work from home culture started to develop. Zoom meetings became standard operation for businesses.
With millions of people staying at home, American popular culture quickly adapted. We saw a surge in people doing jigsaw puzzles, playing board games, crafting, hiking, bird watching, baking bread, walking dogs and tending to house plants. Record numbers of people adopted dogs and cats from animal shelters.
To go along with all the crazy of 2020, we were introduced to a Netflix hit series called “Tiger King.” The insanity of the show was a distraction from the news of the pandemic. The show was only eight episodes but was full of absolute insanity. The show followed a man named Joe Exotic, a pistol-toting, mullet-sporting Oklahoma tiger zoo owner. The show covered his comical attempt at a country music singer/songwriter career (his songs were about tigers), his far-fetched political campaigns and his feud with a rival zoo owner in Florida. The final episode ends with Joe Exotic’s conviction for his role in a murder-for-hire scheme. Joe Exotic is currently serving a 22-year prison term, but in true 2020 fashion, he is seeking a presidential pardon.
Among the crazy, strange, unexpected and sometimes forgotten happenings of 2020:
• Prince Harry quit the royal family.
• Nancy Pelosi tore up a speech.
• The United Kingdom finally left the European Union.
• Sarah Palin sang “Baby Got Back” dressed as a bear.
• Hand sanitizer, meat and coin shortages.
• A Sahara sandstorm blew across the Atlantic Ocean.
• Tom Brady and Peyton Manning played golf on television.
• The North Korean dictator was thought dead for nearly 20 days (but was apparently alive).
• A scheme to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
• George Floyd.
• Peaceful protests.
• The Dixie Chicks renamed themselves the Chicks, and Lady Antebellum renamed themselves Lady A.
• Quaker Oaks retired Aunt Jemima.
• A private company named SpaceX blasted astronauts into space.
• The NBA and NHL finished their seasons in “bubbles.”
• Wildfires wrought destruction on the West Coast.
• The Masters were played in the fall.
• The first presidential debate was a hot mess, and the second debate was canceled.
• Vice President Mike Pence had a fly on his head during the vice presidential debate.
• Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani had hair dye running down his face.
• Sidney Powell, another Trump lawyer, promised to “Release the Kraken” in the form of election lawsuits.
• Mike Tyson boxed at age 54.
• Two COVID-19 vaccines were approved.
• Jupiter and Saturn merged in the night sky.
Mississippi was not immune from the entirely unpredictable changes in 2020. For years, the conventional wisdom in Mississippi was that legalizing medical marijuana and changing the state flag were very unpopular proposals. It seemed unimaginable that the state would change on either issue. Then, 2020 happened; both issues were put on the November ballot, and when the votes, were counted, Mississippi voters overwhelmingly approved both medical marijuana (68%) and a new state flag (71%).
A lot of sad things happened in 2020. We lost over 337,000 people in America to COVID-19. We lost proms, graduations, sports, parties and family gatherings. During the year, we lost a host of celebrities, including Charlie Pride, Charlie Daniels, Sean Conerly, Herman Cain, Regis Philbin, Hal Ketchum, Wilford Brimley, Don Shula, John Lewis, Doug Supernaw, Tom Seaver, Don Larsen, Little Richard, Joe Diffie, Eddie Van Halen, Gayle Sayers, Kenny Rogers, Chuck Yeager, Kobe Bryant, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Alex Trebek, Olivia de Havilland and Dawn Wells.
At this time, billions of people across the globe are celebrating the new year of 2021. Make a toast to making 2021 a better year. Let us hope and pray that 2021 is a year that is full of more normal and more kindness.
Keith Ball is an attorney and lifelong resident of the Friendly City.