By Mike Canavan
As the twilight of 2020 lingers on the horizon, I was reflecting just what I would write to try to convey what this year has meant to me, my family, and those that I share my life with.
I can remember at the end of 2019 I was very much looking forward to 2020. The start of a new decade — god, it even sounded lucky! A brand-new decade boded a bright new future….
Sure, we were plagued by bushfires and floods, but hell this is Australia, a sunburnt country. How did Dorothea Mackellar’s famous poem ‘My Country’ go?
I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of drought and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror –
The wide brown land for me!
But then the reality started to unfold. For a moment, it felt like the world actually stopped for a second and we were just moving in slow motion as horror took hold.
The Covid-19 pandemic, as it was dubbed, assaulted our shores. Rocked our senses and changed our lives perhaps for ever.
Levels of community leadership would dramatically be put to the test. Some rose to the challenge, some floundered, and others failed dismally. In unchartered waters most leaders turned to their medical experts. All of a sudden names came to the fore, people that we had never heard of — faceless bureaucrats took on a roll similar to ‘Papal infallibility’. Our leaders relinquished their mantel. Our nation turned from a Federation to a collection of feudal waring fiefdoms, each State Premier jostling for power, re-election and kudos.
Our federal government, in an ill-fated attempt of mediation, established a National Cabinet consisting of all state and territory leaders. Very much like the original League of Nations and its impotent successor the United Nations. With all the good intentions in the world, it soon became evident that it was a flaccid ineffective talk fest. They meet regularly, and then the participants went off and did exactly the opposite to what they agreed upon in selfish acts of political pork barrelling.
Our Prime Minister’s influence was reduced to a sideshow, who’s only role in this pantomime was to write cheques (job keeper and job saver) that the Nation could neither afford nor ever be able to repay. The debt is likely to run in excess of one trillion dollars.
We’ve willingly given up a range of human rights indefinitely, and at extraordinary financial cost, for a potentially minuscule reduction in risk.
And the precedent has been set for future governments when a more virulent virus arises, and when surveillance technology is far improved. Beware of the ‘Saving Lives Act’ to be mandated sometime in the future.
Sadly, it seems to me that there is a real lack of vision and courage in our current crop of political masters.
At the height of the panic, businesses were locked down, people forced to isolate at home, toilet paper became more valuable than gold and supermarkets shelves looked like a cyclone had just hit.
Yet in the middle of all the chaos some examples of the extraordinary qualities of the human spirit came to the fore….
Despite social isolation and worrying financial uncertainly, Australians armed themselves with that most powerful of weapons — simple acts of kindness to fight COVID-19.
While some thought only of themselves, many came together revealing the country’s long treasured values of mateship, compassion and generosity still flourish during tough times.
Social media sites have been flooded with acts of compassion, from donating coffee to health care workers and chocolates to teachers, to cooking meals for neighbours.
In my parents building a book bin appeared. People were offered the opportunity to share with the buildings residents books that they had already read and no longer needed.
Notices went up in my own building complex offering older residents the opportunity of having somebody do their essential shopping for them. It may not seem much, but every kindness was much appreciated.
From the Kindness Pandemic Facebook page
Experts have warned that acts of kindness — no matter how small — have never been more important.
“Compassion tempers the body’s stress mechanisms, so it is a powerful way to reduce anxiety too, and immunity can be strengthened if you are less stressed. It’s a good time that the community can rally together against a common enemy — physical isolation doesn’t have to mean emotional isolation” said Ali Walker, Social Scientist for the Centre for Social Impact, UNSW Sydney. She went on to say, “Australians will look back on as this period as the time they learned to reconnect with their communities”.
“Imagine if this once in a lifetime pandemic becomes the turning point for the way we treat each other,” Dr Walker said.
There was another surprising side-effect of the lockdowns. People started to think about what really mattered, especially in relation to their family, friends and priorities in life. This reflection I believe has led to re-evaluation and correction in life’s balance across the board.
People started to read again. They examined and lent support to causes they wouldn’t have been privy to otherwise.
Regardless of the darkness that we feel like we’re shrouded in, I prefer to think about the growth we’ve experienced. It’s easy to get lost in the doom and gloom, but there are signals of hope.
For me, these are the things I have taken out of 2020:
Find your voice and refuse to lose it again
Political correctness and the vocal minority has become far too powerful for the good of our community as a whole. The faceless keyboard warriors who cower behind anonymity must be stopped. If the pandemic taught us anything, it is that life can change dramatically on the ‘turn of a dime’. Stand up for what you believe in and be courageous enough to say — “no, I don’t agree and enough is enough”. Far too many are too comfortable playing both sides of the fence when it comes to talking about things that matter. Anyone can be an advocate, and you owe it to yourself to stand up and be counted for what you believe in.
Never take anything for granted
The amount of loss we’ve seen this year has been truly unprecedented in recent times. We’ve seen mass layoffs. We’ve seen industries completely pushed to the point of no return. We’ve also lost things that were more personal to us such as close human interaction. We don’t get to go to places like we used to or even sit down at a restaurant or pub comfortably. This year was a great reminder to always be grateful for the things we overlook that we get to freely enjoy. Whatever we have can be taken away at a moment’s notice. We have to appreciate our blessings, even the small ones.
Time for ourselves isn’t the enemy
We all need and owe time to ourselves. It shouldn’t have taken 2020 to slow us all down, but something had to do it. In a culture that always stresses how we need to stay busy, it’s easy to forget to take care of ourselves, friends and loved ones. When our hands are always moving, when do we ever have time to stop, breathe, reflect, and grow? Never.
Returning to “normal” isn’t something I’m interested in
There’s a lot of people who want to go back to normal, or the way things were — but quite frankly, that’s not something I intend to blindly do. Our normal has lacked accountability towards those who are doing wrong. Our normal looked like a lot of people not caring about anybody but themselves. When things settle down, may the lessons we had to learn during 2020, be lessons we keep in 2021 and beyond.
Even when all hope seems lost, it’s not — but it may take some time to see that
Times like these have a way of helping us find strength in our ‘seasons of weakness’. They push us to be innovative toward our issues. What we’ve gone through is tough and will be tough, but it does not hold the pen to our story. We do.
“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope”. — Martin Luther King Jr.