We started this year choking on the smoke and dust of bushfires across the country. It was relentless and it was horrible. We dared not leave our homes, unsure if we would be trapped by the fires, not wanting to breathe the air anyway. When we did finally head down south on a summer holiday and stopped for the night at Gundagai the roads shut around us, the ground was parched and cracked and the brief rain shower only served to muddy the car.
Eventually the smoke cleared and the fires were extinguished, but then the pandemic arrived.
Many thousands across the world have lost their lives or suffered long term effects from the virus and millions have lost their jobs and livelihoods due to the economic effects of travel restrictions and lockdowns.
We were lucky. I have been contemplating pandemics for decades and when I heard the news from abroad and from experts I was already getting slowly prepared. I already worked partly from home and had enough tools stockpiled for the rest of the family, when B’s work also turned remote and the schools were closed.
Watching Alex work from home was really wonderful. Finally, we had a chance to experience his amazing work ethic, unlike the one he displays for some of his extra-curricular learning. While many others complained about the difficulty of assisting their kids at home, I found it fun.
I grew up in a fairly isolated household where learning was respected. Part way through my fourth year my parents began home schooling us until high school. I was an independent learner and I paid attention at school, picked my courses at school and university so that I had a basis to understand almost anything.
I even met my wife remotely and, in the early days, conversed with her electronically, before video was an option.
This year those skills came in handy. Forget personal presentation, about office conversations, about noisy teams and social jostling. While others complained about isolation, motivation and communication, I was in my element. And I had the scientific background to understand the decisions and actions in the pandemic.
Of course, I was fortunate not to be entirely isolated. I had my wife, son and my dog. It was an utter joy to spend more time with them. Back when we both worked in the city, B and I would have lunch together every day. Twenty years later we could do so again. I feel like it has brought us closer together again.
I worked hard and the work flowed in relentlessly. Sometimes too much so and I wished that others would stop, give me a break. A lack of ability to escape compounded it.
When we were allowed out of the house again, I found myself looking at the natural world again with amazing clarity, noticing every sight and sound. I missed flying and overseas travel, that different kind of isolation from the world.
We were fortunate in New South Wales not to experience the same kind of lockdown and restrictions as in Victoria and many other countries. After doing months of karate over Zoom we were allowed back into the dojo and, at the end of the year, both Alex and I graded to first kyu.
Alex completed his final year of primary school and was rewarded with some amazing honours.
There was a true sense of achievement and, by the end of the year, I was prepared to say that, for us, it was actually pretty good.
Then we came home two days after Christmas to find our dog Kita floating dead in the pool.
I no longer want to say nice things about 2020. All that sense of accomplishment drained by the guilt at lacking the foresight to get the basics right and keep a member of the family safe.
In half an hour’s time 2020 will be over. I will be commemorating, not celebrating. I see many dark clouds on the horizon, conflict with China, the continued rise of authoritarian neoliberalism and the cult of ignorance in democracies and the increasing effects of climate change.
I hope that I am wrong. I hope that things do get better. We must all try to make it so.