2020: The Embodiment of Contradiction

Sitting here thinking about how best to sum up 2020, a thought slammed me straight between my uncoiffed for months eyebrows. This year, 2020, is the year that everyone thought the year 2000 was going to be. I’m certain that some profit or seer centuries ago just got a number wrong, guys! They actually meant 2020!

My kids and I have spent the last 4 weeks baking Christmas goodies. While I do love sweets, the baking simply can’t stay in the house too long. I decided about 6 weeks ago it was time to stop emotional Covid19 binge eating. So, we’ve spent our weekends baking, sneaking a taste of a cookie or pastry, and freezing the rest in our deep freezer in the basement. First of all, we can’t see it and that goes a long way for my waistline. Second of all, we can’t see it so it lasts long enough to actually gift to others.

As many of you may already know, Christmas baking is a heartfelt family tradition that, despite any amount of illness or treatment, I have never missed out on since taking it over from my grandmother in 2017. So, the very act of spending time at the island rolling out cinnamon rolls with the kids or sprinkling Christmas candies on the sugar cookies fills my tank with something I’ve spent the better part of my adult life longing for; family traditions. And so, I hold onto it like a pitbull on the end of a rope being swung in circles 4 feet off the ground.

Last weekend, we started a series of drive-by porch drops of cookies, breads and pastries. They haven’t seen their friends since the summer, they aren’t in physical school and they aren’t even allowed to hug their grandparents. Even though they still run around and play with each other, which is a testament to how they are doing (totally taking a moment to pat ourselves on the back because, frankly, I don’t believe in modesty right now), I thought it would be a great opportunity to spread some holiday cheer and get some much needed face to face time with people who don’t live in our house.

Once we finished our first round of drop offs, the family and I sat in the living room, the kids eyes glued to the TV. I asked them, ‘So, how did you feel about doing Christmas goodie drop offs?’ Without taking their eyes from the TV, they both said, ‘Good’. My mistake, I should know better than to ask questions that way. So, I tried again, ‘Hey girls! What emotions did you feel today when we dropped off goodies to your friends?’ That was the money question. They both responded with a variety of short answers, ‘Good’, ‘Happy’, ‘Joy’. This is what I was looking for because even though they can’t experience the joy of running and playing with their friends on the shiny new playground that opened across the street only 3 weeks ago, they can experience the joy of giving. And if that’s doesn’t perfectly sum up the most contradictory year in history, I don’t know what does.

How many times in the last 10-20 years have you said to yourself, ‘Something has got to give?’

I think I was 22 when I started having that thought. I used to work across the street from a friend who I used to catch a ride home with. Some days he would work later than me so I would sit in the Tim Hortons of the singular business in that building and read a book (cell phones were still a toy for rich people then). During the weekend shift of that very company between Tim Hortons hang outs, an employees boyfriend walked into the call center and attempted to shoot his girlfriend. Not six months earlier, someone I had known in junior high school was shot in his home during a home invasion. I couldn’t help but wonder to myself, ‘What the hell is going on?’

I continued to ask myself that question in the years to follow, but the things that would stir that question became the most trivial of things. I mean, a bad breakup with an unknowing mentally unstable partner or drug deal gone bad were not scenarios anyone chose to find themselves in but knowing the backstory at least made it make some sort of sick sense. But a 10 car pile up on the 410 because someone didn’t like the guy in front of him only doing 20 kilometers over the speed limit had apparently become an acceptable reason to cut 4 different cars off with the staunch intent of getting in front of said 20 km over speeder to give him the finger and cut him off…or maybe shoot him. In my very humble opinion, what I continued to see happening around me, and maybe even in my very own car when I was the one being cut off and finding myself uncontrollably screaming expletives with my little human in the backseat saying, ‘What does (insert four letter word here) mean Mommy?’ was a strong indication that society was spinning out of control.

About this time last year, I can remember saying to my husband, ‘Can we please just have a boring year for a change?’, and he likely ignored such a statement because only five years into our relationship, he had already learned to zone out my rants. So, I persisted, as he very likely predicted would also happen, ‘But really, we’ve been through hell over the last few years. Some fun, some really not fun. Wouldn’t it be great if we could just have a non-eventful year next year. Breathe a little?’ And he likely entertained me for thirty seconds by agreeing.

In February 2020, I was very excited to have finished my twenty six month course of chemotherapy. I thought to myself, ‘I’m finally going to get my life back!’. I had been reaching out of my comfort zone to learn and grow during treatment and was hungry for more. I was going to get a personal trainer, pursue my new found love of public speaking and book a yoga trip for one to Costa Rica to continue finding my inner zen (I know, not the boring year I had planned on). Then only three weeks after swallowing the last of the pills I had come to hate and appreciate some much, the world locked down.

I was angry. My freedom was being stolen from me again. Yet, as I watched the rest of the world spin on it’s head, I couldn’t help but be reminded of just how much everyones experience reminded me of my own experience with my cancer diagnosis. I had already been there. I knew what it was like to have my entire perception of reality rocked. And while the world bought toilet paper and flour at break-neck speed, I empathized. It was the same feeling that made me buy my husband a $500 skill saw for our basement renovation (that had no plans of starting yet) only three weeks after my cancer diagnosis. It was desperation. I was grasping for anything that would make me feel secure.

In the weeks and months to follow, the atrocities of humanity continued to pile up. We saw images of groceries store shelves empty as the elderly tried to find something to purchase for themselves. People yelling at grocery store clerks who didn’t have more pasta in the back. Anti-maskers stormed the streets in protest, believing that being ordered to wear a mask is an infringement of human rights. And who can forget this rubbish:

I mean, let’s be honest, my hair was platinum blonde and all of an inch and a half when the proverbial shit hit the fan. Which meant that by end of April, I looked like a skater kid from the early 90s, only made worse by my failed attempted to bleach my own dark roots. I had the pleasure of wearing a hat until June to hide my Rocket Pop head, with 70s porn shag grow out. I wanted a damn haircut too but I wasn’t about to risk my life, or that of others, to yell it in the streets. If you’re curious, yes, it has since been fixed. I will be a brunette until Covid is well under control because that’s about how long it will take me to get over that experience.

If watching the privileged first worlders spin into chaos wasn’t enough, there was me and others like me, who had (and still have) no clue whether we were considered high risk. So, there would be no personal trainer (I did get 5 sessions in) and there would be no speaking in public – especially loudly because we learned the more loudly we speak the more moistly we speak *shudder* putting others at risk and travelling by plane became the literal definition of voluntarily entering a death rocket. There is a part of me that is grateful for having learned over the last three years what it means to protect myself from germs. My family had been taking precautions for a long time due to my shaky immune system and even though the idea of not being able to reach inner peace on a beach under the sun was disappointing, at least I knew better. This has also made it wildly challenging not to take the actions of others personally. I mean, if I can go through the deprivation I had been through to keep myself safe, why couldn’t others do the same? If not for themselves, than for the people around them?

Then came the end of May, two months into the lockdown that was supposed to last for two weeks, when the Minneapolis police murdered a black man in the street, in broad daylight while he cried for his mother; George Floyd. This senseless and barbaric act set off the largest global civil rights movement the world has every seen; in the middle of a global pandemic no less. How does one even describe the compelling feeling which would wash over them so hard that they would be willing, of their own accord, to march into the streets screaming, ‘Black Lives Matter’? , full well knowing they are putting their very lives at risk over a guy who was already dead.

But that’s the thing, isn’t it? He wasn’t just a dead guy. He was the representation of 400 years of mistreatment. He was the embodiment of the injustice that black, indigenous and people of color have faced for hundreds of years…but he was the first, during a time that the world stood still, that we witnessed die in cold blood. Just like, it isn’t just a bylaw meant to infringe on rights. The mask is the representation of respect, love, consideration, compassion, empathy. All the things that those cops didn’t show George. All the things those protesters can’t see because they are blinded by their own privilege.

And so, prepared as I thought I was from already walking through my own personal hell, my own foundation shifted again and I had to stop watching. I had to re-center myself. I had to absorb what I had witnessed and learned. And when I could finally see through the noise in my own mind; when I was able to remind myself of my own need for gratitude, I began to realize the other things that were happening amidst the chaos.

The literal sky was clearing. We saw the very real possibility of slowing or stopping climate change. Wildlife came out of hiding and walked the streets in India and visited the canals of Venice. We saw friends, family and neighbors step up and help those in need. People would step away from each other out of respect. We saw people doing each others groceries to protect their immunocompromised or elderly neighbors from danger. Charity donations skyrocketed amid plummeting employment rates. We saw businesses go remote, giving commuting Moms enough time back to spend quality time with their family, feed their kids dinner at a reasonable time, go for a walk or have a bath with a good book. No longer were parents worked 10 hour days and shuffling their kids back and forth from 6 different extra curriculars to try to bury their guilt, shoving their faces with Subway (which we also learned doesn’t even qualify as bread because the sugar content is so high). Instead, they were eating dinner together at home, doing crafts together, hiking together.

Most importantly, rather than continuing to strive for more, strive for perfection, strive for control, and even striving for exhaustion because it’s how we’ve learned we need to prove our worth, we saw the entire world pause. People began to realize all they have to be grateful for; what really matters. We saw people create online communities to support each other, and countries help each other out by sending medical professionals and equipment where they were needed. International pharmaceutical companies came together in a race to beat Covid19 by doing one of the most medically remarkable things in history; come up with a vaccination in less than a year. It became perfectly acceptable for a diapered toddler to crash a business meeting over Zoom for God sake. And if that doesn’t get the point across clearly enough, it means that business acknowledged that we are humans who are responsible for other humans. That we are humans who have limits and need grace and support sometimes. That we are not machines and when continuing to strive for the impossible, we will crack and that none of us actually want to see that happen.

Too many times over the last 6 weeks, I’ve heard people say, ‘I can’t wait for 2020 to be done!’, ‘Good riddance!’. I can’t argue with this sentiment. It’s so easy to sum 2020 up into one simple word; bullshit. 2020 was loss but it was also the return to humanity. It was hope. Hope that we as one people, can move forward together into a new year and a new normal with greater appreciation for our good fortune, for greater appreciation of each other and with the knowledge that in the face of almost certain destruction, by and large we have been able to persevere and begin shaping the world we want to live in.

So, as I look toward 2021 and the simplicity of my new year wishes, I also say thank you to 2020 for forcing us all to stop and see who we could be, if we so choose to be. And I say thank you to YOU for joining me and supporting me on the ride.

Happy Holidays and all the very best in 2021.

Until next time, you’ve got this.

Published by Michelle Burleigh

Michelle is a highly driven, ambitious woman who gratefully possesses a love of learning and a passion for personal growth which support her ongoing healing and career growth. As a mother of two incredible young girls, a wife, and a patient advocate, and most recently, an author, she has not allowed her December 2017 diagnosis of Acute Leukemia stop her from making and achieving goals. She felt compelled to start SoYouveGotCancer.ca to help people and their loved ones feel more empowered and informed throughout their own healing journey.

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