Remember 536 A.D.?


Is 2020 “the worst year ever?” The question has been raised in various news outlets and is becoming commonplace on social media.

“Why every year — but especially 2020 — feels the worst ever,” read a recent National Geographic headline.

“Stories of fear and peril pique our anxiety,” it reported. “They put our brains on high alert, an advantage that once protected our early hominid ancestors from predators and natural disasters, but one that now leaves us ‘doomscrolling,’ endlessly refreshing social media and online news to stay abreast of the latest threats.”

Whatever the terminology, a global pandemic taking more than a million lives globally and 200,000 in the U.S. has converged with social unrest to make it a turbulent year.

Although for perspective, there’s 536 A.D.

Based on scientific discoveries, Science magazine reported, “Turns out a volcanic eruption in Iceland created a cloud so large that it darkened the skies above Europe and Asia for months. As a result, temperatures dropped, snow fell during the summer, crops failed, famine spread and millions of people starved. … Historians believe that this massive change somehow caused bubonic plague, which would go on to eliminate almost half of the Eastern Roman Empire’s population and hasten its collapse.”

Which isn’t to dismiss 2020’s awfulness, although much of our current malaise was pre-pandemic.

But the pandemic has increased isolation from family and friends. Large gatherings, for the most part, are a memory. Economic distress is widespread.

But is it “the worst year ever?” An estimated 618,222 men died in the Civil War (360,222 in the North and 258,000 in the South), 1861-65. The 1918-20 Spanish Flu epidemic killed 675,000 Americans (50 million globally). In 1933, the lowest point in Great Depression (1929-39), half the banks failed and 15 million were unemployed (20%) without a social safety net.

In 1968, amid the Vietnam War, both the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Robert Kennedy were assassinated; riots engulfed major cities, and 100,000 Americans died from H3N2, aka the “Hong Kong flu,” 1 million globally.

This isn’t to minimize today’s often heart-rendering trials and tribulations putting a premium on individual and family persistence. Unlike earlier eras, resources are often available. Pursuing them shouldn’t be regarded as weakness, but a helping hand necessary to get through tough times.


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