2020 – A Conciliatory View

Written by Cornelia Schmitt

2020 was supposed to be great – I was supposed to be working in the microscopy lab in my university, real hands-on research. Over summer I had three camps planned. And in September I would have my graduation ceremony, a big one with robes and hats and everything.

2020 was the year of unfulfilled expectations, full of frustration and scrapping plans that were made in the face of rapidly changing situations. But, at least for me, it was not only that. Things didn’t go to plan, but that doesn’t mean I did nothing, or that 2020 was a completely wasted year.

I am 23 years old and I moved out four years ago. Moving back in with my parents (and for a while, my sister) who live in Germany was not something I had planned to do. While at first it just seemed like a big loss of freedom and independence, it was also more time than I expected to be able to spend with them. I cooked and had long chats with my mom, worked on projects with my dad, went on walks and day trips together as a family, or sometimes just sat together in front of the TV whilst enjoying each other’s company. Maybe these activities will be some of my most treasured memories when my parents grow old.

And I did get to do many great things in this time: with my dad and my sister, I built a canoe. “Nautilus” turned out to be a beautiful wooden boat and went on many trips with us – from day trips on local lakes to an overnighter down a river, with 25km of paddling every day. My mom’s sketching classes were moved online, so I was able to join in. I learned how to do Via Ferrata Climbing and I taught myself how to use a sewing machine.

One of the biggest parts of my new-found free time activities was SSAGO – the Student Scout and Guide Organisation. I had gone to two of their events before, but they were based (mostly) in a different country to me (I am studying in the Netherlands) which meant that I couldn’t attend many. Now it didn’t make a difference if the distance was 500 or even 5000km – events were online anyway, so all of us could take part! I could play board games with people from all over Great Britain. I could share cooking recipes with an Indian friend I met on the SSAGO Discord server. We went on camps – each of us camping by ourselves, in our own garden or living room, but connected over the internet. Weekly, we’d complete scout and guide badges together that inspired us to do things we’d never have done otherwise (like painting a map of my hometown for a local history badge). We challenged ourselves to push our physical fitness with a sports challenge. Took part in online escape rooms. Made campfires. Virtually visited museums. Building things and crafting things and learning things. So many great memories that would never have happened in a “normal” year.

In between all of this, I managed to fit in bits of normality. I reconnected with one of my friends still living in Germany, and we went on (socially distanced) hikes together. We went on a short corona-proof family holiday. Then I moved out again for my Master studies, explored a new city, joined sports clubs, met new people – before returning to my parents again because locally rising infection numbers worried me.

And maybe 2020 even makes us feel like we’re living longer: a scientific theory called the 'Oddball Effect' says that we perceive time intervals as shorter, if nothing unexpected happens and longer, if we experience many new stimuli. This is also the reason why years seem to fly the older you get – you have done most things before, they are neither previously unseen nor unexpected. But in 2020, we were forced to break out of routines, we tried new things or new ways to do familiar things. And with that, we get what feels like bonus time.

Now I know that this all doesn’t stand for everybody. Some people lost their jobs, struggled financially. Others have relatives who are at high risk and are in a constant state of stress or worry about their family members. Lockdown definitely hits those living in a smaller accommodation harder than me, in a house with a garden and my own room. I was also lucky in other regards: if I didn’t have SSAGO, I would have found it considerably harder to stay active, mentally and physically, and not watch TV all day while simply waiting for lockdown to end. I also don’t think I would have been able to handle this stress a few years ago – in fact I’m quite sure that if that had happened in my first year at university, it would have hit me quite badly.

Lastly, even talking just for myself, this is not a love letter to 2020 – if I could trade it for the 2020 that could have been, I would without hesitation – but a handshake. An “I am still disappointed, but I won’t hold a grudge”. An “I hope 2021 will be different, but I also know that I can make it work, I can find reasons to smile, and things to make me happy either way”.

And I hope you will too.

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