2020: A Retrospective

Vincent Danen

March 06, 2021

It's taken me some time to even get to the place where I wanted to stop and think about 2020. We're just over 2 months into 2021 and I've been thinking about writing this since December, but between being plain old tired (physically and mentally) and being busy, every time the thought of writing this came up I shied away, finding some excuse or another not to write it.

But 2020 was too much of a year to not write about it and this will be the fifth year that I look back on a former year and reflect on it. Before it is too far in the rear view mirror... well, here we are.

2020 started off like any other recent year for me. In the first 9 weeks I was in Boston twice and Raleigh once. The pace was similar to prior years, until I was in Raleigh the first week of March for the FIRST PSIRT TC and I remember being in the hotel room in the evenings, watching the news as more cases of COVID-19 were appearing in North America and I distinctly remember: am I going to be able to make it home before they close the border? I ended up getting home two weeks before the border between the US and Canada was closed. After that, we went nowhere (like most everyone else). The staff trip I was planning to host in Toronto in April was cancelled. My wife and I were planning to visit Scotland - cancelled.

For most people, 2020 was when they started working from home full time. Not an issue for me, I've been working out of my home for 20 years -- not a big deal. What I found strange that I did not expect, was not traveling anymore. When I first started having to travel more for work, I didn't particularly enjoy it. Immensely useful and I appreciated and valued meeting people in person and getting things done. The value I got out of travel was great but the travel itself wasn't a highlight. Oddly enough, I think I started enjoying it without even realizing it. The first 6 months were weird -- I liked being at home with the family, but I missed the travel (heck, I even missed the flights, which I never thought I would miss!).

It was June before I put away my luggage and backpack, which I never put away due to the frequency of travel. I think it wasn't until then that I thought we'd be in this for the long haul.

To this point, I wasn't really worried about myself or my family (aside from my parents and in-laws). I'm fairly healthy, pretty hygiene conscious to begin with, and I have my faith to rest on. So in that respect, COVID was more of a nuisance to me personally than anything else. The part where I struggled was with the people in my Product Security team -- a team who is dispersed around the globe. When things weren't bad here in Canada but were terrible in Spain, where I have some associates, I was concerned. Every time news of new outbreaks, new lockdowns, new and terrible events around the world came up I was concerned for and praying for those I am responsible for in those countries.

As a result, towards the end of the year, it felt that COVID was sucking the life out of me. Again, not due to concerns for me or my family, but because of my concern for the team. That is probably the worst thing because while I feel responsibility for these people, there's very little that I could do outside of work flexibility to accommodate their circumstances.

Throw in general unrest around the world from "mostly peaceful protests" that burned down the livelihoods of innocent people to political issues.. the so-called "doom scrolling" of 2020 was a real thing. Of course, this added to the stress as well.

Then throw in the impact of lockdowns to the mental health and livelihoods of people. I remember distinctly talking with my wife as we were going into our first lockdown that, impacts to the economy aside, the toll this would take on people unable to work or support their families or even get out to burn off some steam, was going to be high. We're marriage counsellors in our church so this was a real concern for us because it did not bode well for families or marriages. What would we be seeing? What would the fallout truly be?

Sadly, we've seen and counselled a number of people for whom 2020 was the straw that broke the camels back. The number of separations and divorces, where forced proximity brought things to the surface that caused rupture were high. We've seen people happily married for over a decade (or so we thought), split up. We saw someone leave their spouse and children without even telling them before they were already 300km away. Not personally, but in our province, we've seen men commit suicide because they could no longer take care of their families, kids commit suicide because they were out of school and the isolation was too much. We've seen substance abuse get out of control, which meant overdoses at a scale we'd not seen before.

While 2020 brought out the absolute worst in a lot of people, we've also seen it bring some beautiful things. We got to do premarital counselling for two wonderful couples. We were able to bring couples together that were buckling under the strain of everything 2020 brought. We've seen kindness for neighbours, people helping out others who couldn't help themselves. If it wasn't for those beautiful things to balance out the ugly...

Circumstances like these really bring out what's under the surface. These are times when our character is put in the crucible. I love this analogy; when precious metal is put in the crucible and the heat is turned up, the impurities always rise to the surface. They're visible to see. Those inner parts that make us who we are come out -- and we all have impurities. How we handle them I think speaks to inner strength and character. Do we manage and get rid of the impurities as they come out when under extreme heat, or do we hang on to them and when things cool down they once more become a part of us?

I'm not by nature a patient person. This has bubbled to the surface a lot in 2020. I have been frustrated, angry, annoyed. But when those emotions or impurities come up, I try to manage them and not keep them. My hope and prayer for myself is, by the grace of God, I continue to become a better husband, father, manager, counsellor, pastor and friend.

Just before Christmas we thought we were going to lose my best fuzzy friend: Whiskeyjack, my faithful companion pictured above. He was quite sick and losing a lot of weight and we'd seen this before in the other Maine Coons we had. Thankfully he turned a corner and, while not 100% and still quite thin, we made it to mid-January of this year. Unfortunately we did have to put him down then. Silly as it sounds, I'm happy that 2020 didn't claim him. It's claimed enough.

I'm also grateful for my team -- 2020 was a year of intense pressure and we stayed the course and accomplished a lot, despite what was going on in our lives personally. If anyone in Product Security is reading this, you already know how grateful I am for each and every one of you but it bears repeating: thank you! We accomplished a lot in the most trying of circumstances!

Who knows what the future brings. At this point we're well into 2021 and there's hope on the horizon. Vaccines are slowly being made available and I hope that things continue to become more and more normal. I look forward to being able to travel again. I look forward to visiting offices and thanking people in person. I look forward to breathing free. I look forward to less doom-scrolling and more happy news.

2020 is one year in our journey. 2021 may not be a lot better but perhaps the night is coming to a close and dawn is on the horizon. The night always seems darkest before the dawn, so here's to hope that the near future -- if not fully realized in 2021 -- will be bright!

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