As we wind down on 2020 and the strange year that was, I want to take a moment to briefly review some of the news that may have been missed this year in the wake of the two P’s: pandemic & politics. Any other year, these stories would have had their shining moment in our social media feeds but were instead blips on the radar, gone in a blink.
In retrospect, it should probably have come as no surprise that 2020 was going to be a dumpster fire of a year. January began with bushfires raging across the country burning tens of millions of acres of land. Northern Africa and the Middle East saw the worst swarm of locusts in decades while the term “murder hornet” entered American lingo as new specimen found their way to the Pacific Northwest. California also had its share of damaging fires so bad that the smoke blew across the nation and even crossed the Atlantic. It’s been an insane year, never mind a pandemic.
That said, it wasn’t all bad and while it may seem like the world stopped revolving on some days, we found ways to keep moving forward. There were even a few discoveries and not-horrible-surprises along the way. Did you know that earlier this year the U.S. publicly recognized footage of an “unidentified aerial phenomena?” This probably would have been the instigation of one of the bigger conspiracies to circulate in recent years – back before Facebook when conspiracy theories seemed mostly harmless – and had its share of time in the news cycle, maybe sparked a Netflix or HBO Max project, but the announcement strangely came and went. And all we got was “Tiger King.”
Speaking of UFOs, another announcement that had a flyby was a discovery published in October – just as all things election related ramped up. NASA released a statement about water molecules found on the moon’s surface. That’s right, with the help of the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, a small amount of water on a sunlit portion of the lunar surface that has led to speculation that water may in fact exist beneath moon’s surface and not just in dark, frozen craters. What does this mean? Future space missions could benefit from water more accessible on the moon as resource to be used in a variety of ways such as converting it into oxygen or fuel. Or, you know, I hear it’s a great place to quarantine with some nice, unobstructed views the Earth so maybe start thinking about that lunar real estate before Elon Musk decides to buy up the best neighborhood and name it ººB&idG§y3ºº.
Back down on the surface of our planet, the last few months has seen the rise, and fall, and rise again of mysterious monoliths. What started as a discovery in Utah of a metal monolith placed in a remote area of the state in Red Rock Country sparked copycat works to pop up in Romania, California, and most recently in New Mexico. While the internet got to work trying to solve this new mystery, these 2001: A Space Odyssey-esque installments did manage to hold our attention for about a week, plus an hour here or there pending updates. As it would turn out, the original monolith had been sitting in that Utah canyon for upwards of five years before being discovered and is being attributed as a work of art in which we have no definitive credit, though a couple artists and stunt art groups have laid claim. What is clear is that as fellow artists took up the mantel to keep it going after the initial monolith discovery, including California metal artists who shared a video of themselves creating the California monolith. If a group of teenage K-Pop fans around the world can prank a president of the United States in 2020, who’s to say some artists create a stir with some monoliths…or, if you prefer, that aliens aren’t already among us? (Just ask Israel’s former space security chief.)
Aside from unidentified objects, flying or monolithic, and water on the moon, we did also have some wins as humans this year. We all got front row seats to watch the original cast of Hamilton perform the musical onstage without having to finagle a way to travel back in time and also pay a full month’s salary to do so. We haven’t had to put on makeup or uncomfortable shoes in almost a year. But in all seriousness, while it can be easier to divert attention away when we don’t want to linger on the bad and the losses, people continue to prove that our worst times can be a spark for inspirational acts. From first responders going above and beyond their line of duty, to scientists creating a vaccine in a record time, to people exercising their democratic rights around the world. More people voted in 2020 in the United States than at any other time in recent history. In India, farmers came together in the largest peaceful protest the world has ever seen. And sometimes just the smallest acts, of neighbors helping one another and folks checking in with someone they haven’t connected with in some time, can be the most inspiring of all.
So even if aliens were waiting for us in space, as one twitter user so aptly put it with the recent extraterrestrial news, “Not now aliens, we’re busy.” And we are. We have our work set out for us as we welcome 2021, and just as the adage goes, adversity breeds character. Perhaps those monoliths mimicking A Space Odyssey are timely in their appearance in that we are forging the next step in humanity’s journey as we work our way through reckonings with racism and environmental responsibility, income inequality and health. If it all seems to be too much, just remember that nothing good ever comes easy, and the struggle isn’t for naught. It’s for is a better tomorrow for everyone. Check back in with us this time next year, E.T.