The Stories That Got Us Through 2020
This year is hard to explain. Writers on Medium made sense of it all.
What just happened?
It’s hard to say for sure. There are the obvious things. The ways our world, and our lives, changed — probably forever. Hundreds of moments watching our colleagues freeze up on video chat. Then, awkwardly trying to tell them, “You’re frozen.” That’s just the beginning.
People have always turned to Medium to better understand the world and each other, and this year was the ultimate testament to that. We came here to figure out exactly… what’s going on. To connect with writers who informed, enlightened, challenged, and moved us. To tell our stories. To feel less alone. Every day, people on Medium came together to make sense of this unusual time, and to learn from each other in the process.
To mark the end of a year that sometimes felt like one endless day (we’re actually writing this on Tuesday, March 263rd), we wanted to share a small portion of the Medium stories that helped us all process this moment in history. We hope you appreciate revisiting them as much as we did.
2020 almost fooled us, purely based on January. We met in restaurants and offices (remember those?), doing reckless things like hugging and shaking hands. When Prince Harry and Meghan Markle moved to Canada, Morgan Jerkins praised them for smashing the monarchy and living on their own terms. “There is poetic justice,” Jerkins wrote, “in that [Markle] was always destined to break protocol because she never was meant to exist inside of the order in the first place.”
That was Before.
As coronavirus rates ticked upward in the U.S., Tomas Pueyo issued an early warning: We must act now. So we did, retreating to our couches to fulfill our civic duties (watch that tiger show and learn what sourdough starter is). We “hunkered down.”
Around the world, you did the same. You wrote in from Italy, France, and beyond. Some of you faced the uncertainty of quarantining far from parents, while others splurged on borderline-unnecessary online purchases. Frontline workers told their stories, too: Juliette Roanoke walked us through one morning as a nurse in a Covid-19 unit.
Meanwhile, epidemiologists joined postal workers and grocery store clerks as the modern heroes of 2020. Science and health journalist Dana G Smith theorized that Covid-19 may actually be a blood vessel disease (and her theory went viral). Obama healthcare lead Andy Slavitt and every single public health expert asked us to wear masks. Again. And again. Oh, and remember when you couldn’t find toilet paper anywhere? Will Oremus unraveled the Mystery of the Missing Toilet Paper.
It was all a little overwhelming, to be honest. As lockdowns began and the rich entered their escape pods, some of us jetted off to digital islands of our own…
In 2020, if you didn’t play Animal Crossing yourself, you probably knew someone who did (and they kept asking you for turnip prices, or something). In a year defined by physical distance, it was comforting to find community online. When we weren’t terraforming our islands, we were connecting in other ways — like when Marie Foulston threw a party in a shared Google doc. Or when Kayla Medica invented a murder mystery game tailor-made for Zoom. (The game lets you role-play as world leaders in 2020 — great for anyone who’s watched entirely too much news in the last nine months.)
We caught up on reading and listening: ZORA Editors delivered a list of the 100 greatest books by Black women. (Months later, we danced in our living rooms when they blessed us with the most iconic albums created by Black women.) We followed essayist Andrew Jazprose Hill on a ferry ride across the Puget Sound, flipped through century-old family photos, and honored rap’s top 40 elder statesmen. On Instagram Live, we logged into DJ D-Nice’s Club Quarantine, probably the best socially distanced dance party in history.
But for all our escape attempts, we’d never get back to “normal” (a word that was voted off the island this year, along with “unprecedented”). The Great Gaslighting was ahead of us, warned Julio Vincent Gambuto. “Normal” wasn’t something to crave. 2020 exacerbated all the problems we’d been living with for decades. And we began to confront them.
This year, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and too many other Black men and women were killed by police, and in acts of racist violence. In the weeks and months following Floyd’s horrific murder, writers expressed anger, pain, frustration, and most of all, exhaustion. Shenequa Golding exposed the farce of maintaining “professionalism” in an age of racial injustice, while Ramesh A Nagarajah opened up about how it feels to be the “token Black friend.” Adrienne Samuels Gibbs asked us all to stop hiding behind vague doublespeak. And thousands of you shared an anonymous former police officer’s account of a system in need of lasting change.
People channeled their outrage into policy. Kristin Richardson Jordan (KRJ) outlined strategies to limit the harm police can inflict on communities — starting with her own neighborhood in Central Harlem. Colin Kaepernick partnered with LEVEL to develop a series of essays that reached back into history to imagine a better future: Abolition for the People. As protests reached a fever pitch, Momentum assured us that this movement is more than a moment. Finally, Barack Obama stepped in to validate our outrage while urging us to carry our convictions to the polls.
It’s impossible to talk about this year without talking about our losses — lives, jobs, hope, leadership. In California, wildfires clogged the air and the sky turned ominously orange. We came together to mourn giants like Kobe Bryant, John Lewis, Chadwick Boseman, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Peter Rubin told us about the time he met the real Alex Trebek (who is exactly like the Alex Trebek we already knew). Tim Wu filled us in on what RBG was like at parties. And Elizabeth Wurtzel was always herself — especially in her final essay.
So yeah, after losing so much, it was easy to want to give up on 2020. Too easy, probably. But if there’s anything we know about 2020, it’s that this year never let up. We had history to live through.
Your phone blew up with automated texts from grassroots organizations. Yard signs battled for your attention. The new iPhone had nothing on an absentee ballot. Wait, is that a fly? Whatever your experience in 2020, one thing was clear: America is divided. Still.
Back in the Before, Karlyn Borysenko shared what it was like to attend a Trump rally as a lifelong Democrat. Borysenko’s efforts to reach across a gaping political divide resonated with readers on both sides. Some of us tried to bridge those divides in our own families: Shannon Ashley helped her mom begin to see through political conspiracy theories, for example.
A record number of Democratic candidates paraded onto debate stages and dropped out of the race weeks later. Joe Biden prevailed, by late summer, as the last Dem standing. Jeff Flake endorsed him just after the Democratic National Convention. Across the aisle, Hillary Clinton did, too. Then, days before the beginning of what would become Election Week, Miles Taylor — the anonymous Trump official who’d penned a New York Times op-ed — came forward on Medium to tell the truth about his experience working for our Commander-in-Chief.
The polls opened, the country held its breath. Everyone had a Nevada meme, for about a day. After four nights of watching sleep-deprived journalists recite the names of every county in the country, we witnessed Joe Biden become President-elect.
Millions of Americans flooded the streets. People danced on cars. Will Leitch reminded us just how… abnormal that is, as Bonsu Thompson challenged Americans to look at themselves. And when Kamala Harris’s nieces walked onstage after that victory speech, writer Gisele Perez saw her younger self.
It felt, to many, like the election was the last hurdle of 2020. Maybe it was, but 2020 also taught us that certainty is not guaranteed. And yet, while we lived through history, we also lived through… life. It was weird, but life happened this year, usually when we logged off.
Sometimes, life was hilarious. Remember when Emery Schindler roasted Coffee People (and their arch rivals, Tea People)? Or when Rae Paoletta explained why medieval cats look like that? How about Chaz Hutton’s Corona Comics? And who among us will forget the night Susan Orlean met a baby horse and… well, you’ll just have to read it.
There were quieter moments, too. In October, chrissy teigen wrote a beautiful, brave essay on losing her son. Matt McGorry learned to let go. Elizabeth Hackett remembered her mom. Roxane Gay described exactly how it feels to just appreciate the person you love.
Your voices, perspectives, and ideas shaped the way we all processed and will remember this rollercoaster of a year. Thank you for being here. 2021 is ahead of us, and there are more stories to tell.
— Medium Staff