You don’t need us to tell you 2020 was a surprise: a deadly pandemic, massive protests, economic upheaval, white-knuckle elections, an impeachment, wildfires, smoke for days, murder hornets. You know.
We met many, many people — nurses fighting the dual pandemics of COVID and institutional racism, newlyweds on different continents separated by lockdowns, activists suspended between the chaos and promise of CHOP, new parents raising babies in isolation — who shared nuanced, often painful accounts of how their lives were upended. As the year ends, we’ve caught up with a few to ask how 2020 looked through their eyes.
Judith and Jan Kyle, retired
Previously seen in: “What life is like for people who choose to self-isolate to protect against coronavirus” — published March 10.
Judith and Jan Kyle started isolating themselves in their Everett home in early March, two weeks before Gov. Jay Inslee issued Washington state’s first stay-home order.
In their 70s and with medical conditions that put them at higher risk of severe symptoms if they contract COVID-19, the Kyles started self-quarantining early. The good news? It’s December. They’re still COVID-free.
In July, after months of missing their grandchildren, the Kyles met their daughter and her children in person outside, 10 feet apart, wearing personal protective equipment. They did that five or six times, but stopped when cases spiked again.
These days, the Kyles are video conference aficionados: They livestream church services, participate in choir and orchestra ensembles, take online courses and keep up with family via the internet. Judith bakes over Zoom and shares recipes with a granddaughter in Vermont. She now has weekly calls with extended family that, until 2020, she hadn’t spoken to in more than 30 years.
“I have a personal relationship with my grandchildren now, the ones that are a little bit older,” Judith said. “They send me texts and pictures of what they’re doing. I don’t have to go through their mothers. We have our own relationships.”
The Kyles, both retired, have found opportunities in the ways the pandemic has changed daily life. Lifelong opera fans, they’ve been watching free virtual shows by the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
But there were difficulties, too. When smoke from West Coast wildfires created hazardous air quality, Judith went on oxygen and worried the respiratory discomfort could be COVID-19.
When protesters took to the streets for Black lives over the summer, Judith says it really opened her eyes. The protests reminded her of when she marched in the ’60s with a baby on her shoulders.
“I thought I knew everything and I started to pay attention and realized I didn’t know a thing,” she said. “We thought we’d made strides [in the 1960s] and I don’t think I can say that now. … My generation really tried and I don’t think we were quite as successful as we thought.”
The Kyles are excited that a vaccine is here, and they hope to see their far-flung children and grandchildren in person soon. In the meantime, they have plenty of Zoom calls, livestream operas and French horn practice to keep them busy.
“We’re not unhappy. We’re learning to live differently,” Judith said. “We’re learning to get our joys differently.”
Simon Adriane Ellis, midwife
Previously seen in: “Pregnant during a pandemic: Seattleites share their concerns about birth, delivery and beyond” — published April 19.
Every time midwife Simon Adriane Ellis delivers a baby, he takes a moment to have a few words with the newborn.
“I tell them we are all going to try to make the world worthy of them,” said Ellis. “That’s always felt like a lot to live up to, but especially this year.”
In March, Ellis, then a new parent of a 6-month-old, was heartbroken that COVID-19 meant he wouldn’t be able to raise his baby among community this year. Meanwhile, at work, he had to enforce policies that limited the number of support people who could accompany pregnant clients to appointments.
Nine months later, not much has changed. Baby Irie Storm is walking now, but hasn’t met the rest of her family. When he gets home from work, Ellis still goes through a rigorous decontamination process before he greets his child.
“Fatigue and frustration with dealing with the pandemic has just gone up and up,” said Ellis, who sounds tired even over the phone. “Nothing has really changed other than getting used to things being really shitty.”
Still, Ellis has done his best to keep morale up at home and at work, and to share important experiences with Irie safely.
When protests against police brutality broke out, Ellis and his partner, who is Black, weighed the dangers of joining the protests in Seattle. Ellis was eager to be part of the movement and felt it was important for his child to experience it too. Irie’s first protest was the health care workers march for Black lives this summer.
Later, Ellis and his partner agonized over whether to take their baby to the aquarium. Before they could use their tickets, the pier collapsed. When the West Coast wildfires hit and made going outside hazardous, Ellis says he hit a breaking point.
“I just felt trapped, so trapped,” said Ellis.
Then came the elections. They kept the news on at home nearly all the time — Ellis told his child they were watching “the map show.”
When Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were named the winners, Ellis went to three different stores to find a newspaper to keep as a memento of the election of the first-ever woman of color vice president for Irie to see when she’s older.
Now Ellis is one of the health care workers in line to get the vaccine, but with cases on the rise, Ellis worries others will become more careless about safety precautions.
This holiday season, Ellis is leaning into his partner’s love for Christmas and watching cheesy Christmas movies, even though Ellis hates them. But it’s something to celebrate, and it marks the end of a terrible year; 2021 awaits, maybe a new chance to fulfill his promise to make the world worthy of the new lives he brings into it every day.
“Thank God we have kids right now,” said Ellis. “They’re full of hope and promise, and 2020 has made it all the more important to have that in your life.”
Daniel Orbegozo, tech worker
Previously seen in: “Far from home, Washingtonians stuck abroad due to coronavirus-related lockdowns and travel bans try to stay positive” — published March 26.
Once a month since October, Daniel Orbegozo has braved the pandemic and flown to Colombia to spend a few days with his Colombian wife. When they’re not together, they talk daily on Zoom.
Orbegozo and Angelica Sanchez married in Colombia in March, just before the country went into lockdown, and they quarantined for two weeks in a single room.
Afterward, Orbegozo spent months trying to find a humanitarian flight back to the U.S., while Sanchez has been on phone calls with the U.S. Embassy in Colombia and the National Visa Center trying to set up an interview to complete the final step in her U.S. permanent-resident visa application.
The visa is the last obstacle keeping them from being in the same place as a married couple. But they don’t know how long it’ll take because they keep getting into a bureaucratic runaround.
“It’s been difficult,” says Orbegozo. “It’s interesting getting used to married life while not being able to start your life together, your family, your apartment. … But it’s 2020, you kind of have to make the best of it.”
When this is over, he looks forward to moving back to Seattle with Sanchez and taking her snowboarding. Sanchez has never seen snow, and Orbegozo has only been snowboarding once.
“We can both just suck at it together,” he says.
More than anything, Orbegozo says, normal is all he wants.
“Normal things like being together and doing nothing, just being able to stare at each other and not saying anything. Sometimes you take that for granted,” he said. “Just being normal, just having a normal life.”
Colleen Echohawk, executive director of Chief Seattle Club
Previously seen in: “Could the coronavirus reset society? Questions we should be asking about post-pandemic life” — published May 19.
Back in February, when COVID-19 felt more like an uneasy rumor than a crisis, Colleen Echohawk traveled to Mentasta Lake, Alaska, for a potlatch funeral. (Echohawk is enrolled with the Pawnee Nation, but her family has close ties in that Alaska Native community.)
“One of the elders from a nearby village said how good it was to see 200-300 people there,” Echohawk said. “They remember potlatch funerals with only 20-30 people — a generation was wiped out by the pandemic of 1918. That has been an ongoing reflection for me this entire year.”
As executive director of Chief Seattle Club, which serves Indigenous people experiencing homelessness, the specter of historical suffering is never far. A few months later, the data told her what she already knew. “The highest death rates for COVID were going to be in BIPOC communities,” she said, referring to Black, Indigenous and people of color. “I was thinking about the language speakers, the elders at Chief Seattle Club — what if we lose them, a whole piece of culture and community?”
Despite the atmosphere of doom, Echohawk has been heartened by the response — particularly BIPOC-led efforts.
“I know there are a lot of good white folks in this community, but how do we get beyond wearing the T-shirt and saying ‘we support BIPOC communities’ to actually doing it?” she said. “I see some sparks of hope, but a lot of power is held by progressive white liberals who are going to have to find ways to assist community-driven solutions.”
She listed organizations she’s admired: King County Equity Now, the Urban League, Decriminalize Seattle, others working on housing and public-safety reform. “They have stepped up big time, risen to the occasion beautifully,” she said.
Echohawk expects more federal support when Biden and Harris are inaugurated on Jan. 21. But she worries the money will be intercepted by large, white-led organizations which, she says, can be well meaning but ineffective.
“The dollars that come in need to be directed by the BIPOC communities who’ve been impacted the most,” she said.
Her year has hit a few optimistic notes: Chief Seattle Club helped hundreds of unhoused members into hotel rooms and served over 10,000 meals in Pioneer Square in October alone. Construction continues for two significant projects: ?ál?al “Home” (80 units of housing, a clinic, gathering spaces) and Sacred Medicine House (100 units of permanent housing for the chronically homeless with special physical and mental health needs) opening in 2021 and 2022, respectively.
And her family got a new addition — a puppy. “That has been a total joy and I’m totally obsessed with her,” Echohawk said. “I was nervous about a puppy, but we are very into her.” So into her, she got a nine-part name: Rizzo Ray Rue Alexandria Ocasio Cortez Yvonne Echohawk Hayashi. (She goes by Rizzo.)
Perhaps most hearteningly, Echohawk has been impressed by the people she works with and serves. “I have realized how resilient our community really is,” she said. “Our staff, our members — just seeing them be super strong and good to each other through the whole thing. But we still have a lot of work ahead of us.”
Jamal Layne, tech worker
Previously seen in: “Meet some of the Seattle-area people marching against racism and police violence” — published June 12.
For Jamal Layne, this weird year has been about “personal growth.” In June, he joined his first-ever protest, spontaneously falling in with a demonstration in Belltown against police violence. He became a more conscientious reader of the news, got serious about working out and began experimenting with the stock market.
“As soon as the pandemic hit and you couldn’t really go anywhere, I thought: ‘Let me take this time to learn more about stocks,’” he said. He downloaded the popular investing app Robinhood — and had some success. “I bought AMD stock [Advanced Micro Devices, which makes computer chips] when it first hit $50 and now it’s $95,” Layne said. “I’ve been testing and learning, especially with my stimulus money.”
His June protest moment wasn’t a conversion experience that led to heavy-duty activism, he said, but it made him want to be more informed about politics and current events. One of his biggest concerns now is student debt. “It’s just a huge thing for everybody my age,” he said. “People can’t do what they want to do, like start a business, because they’re just so bogged down.”
Have things gotten better or worse since Jan. 1, 2020?
“These are muddy waters, but I think there’s going to be a rainbow at the end,” Layne said. “A lot of things have been exposed — how people think, a lot of racism, how America is divided — but I think that’s going to strengthen us. Like when you work out, you tear down muscles and they rebuild to get stronger. That’s America. It has to tear down to get stronger.”
Hazzauna Underwood, nurse at Overlake and Swedish hospitals
Previously seen in: “‘Racism is the biggest public health crisis of our time’: Health care workers of color fight twin pandemics” — published June 9.
Even though she’s a nurse, working on the front lines of the pandemic, Hazzauna Underwood isn’t exactly over the moon about our new vaccines.
“I am as skeptical this year as I’ve ever been,” she said. “I guess I’m excited it’s available and hopeful it’ll do what it needs to do — but I was also excited a few months ago when it felt like corona was leaving us. I don’t want to get my hopes up.”
This tough year brought her a few bright spots: buying a house in Everett, her kids (aged 4, 8, 15 and 16) doing well, her oldest daughter getting straight As, the presidential election not being a total disaster.
But 2020 has been exhausting. There’s the pandemic: “It’s emotionally draining and frustrating dealing with this virus, seeing where we were and having PTSD from the first round, like: ‘Why didn’t you guys get it? If you guys had gotten it then, we wouldn’t be here now!’ I didn’t sign up to die and put my family at risk so you can party and kick it.” And national politics: “I never realized how easily people can be manipulated with just the right person at the top — and him [Donald Trump], still thinking he won. It just baffles me.” And violence: “They’re still killing Black men. It hasn’t stopped and they’re not being held to the same account — we’re a long way away from where we should be.”
Underwood was an enthusiastic presence at some summer protests — including a health care workers march of thousands in scrubs and white coats — but had to stop. There’s no time.
So she focuses her energy where she can: work, children, workouts, which are an anchor. And the pandemic has slowed life down a little.
“Before COVID, I felt like I was living out of my car: kids getting out of school, running to activities, running to events,” she said. “Now we can come home and not feel rushed, sit down and have dinner — that in and of itself is peace.”
Naudia Miller, artist and activist
Previously seen in: “What are we here for? CHOP’s legacy, from barricades to changes to conversation” — published June 23.
Despite everything, 2020 gave Naudia Miller hope.
“As a Black woman, as a Black mother, it’s not that I didn’t spend any time feeling anxious or worried or all those gnarly feelings,” she said. “That’s an everyday, lived experience as a Black mother. But amazing things are coming together behind the scenes, behind what you’ve been seeing at Cal Anderson with the police doing their thing and whatever most of the media is telling us — we are laying the foundation for the future.”
Miller, who was in the thick of CHOP (the Capitol Hill Organized Protest), said its sometimes-chaotic nucleus of energy has blossomed into an interlaced net of organizing and activism — and it’s kept her busy.
On the organizing side, Miller, known on Instagram as @justcallmenas, is part of King County Equity Now’s Black Brilliance Research Project (which is studying community priorities for police and public-safety reform) and the Harriet Tubman Foundation for Safe Passage (her family’s nonprofit, which assists community organizers with finances and infrastructure). She also sings with the Marshall Law Band, which became something like the CHOP house band and recently put out a record, and is a partner in Black & Tan Hall, a cooperative trying to open a venue and restaurant in South Seattle, inspired by the historical Seattle club of the same name.
“There is a strong community of Black people who are feeling very hopeful about the future,” she said, ticking off names: Converge Media (media outlet), Black Star Farmers (farming and guerrilla gardening project), Community Passageways (post-incarceration support), others.
“Black people, despite everything, have been actively working toward solutions, not waiting for anyone else to give it to us,” she said. “This year it has been energized and, despite a pandemic, hyperconnected in a way I don’t think we imagined.”
Miller says she understands the despair other people might be feeling: In 2013, just after her second son was born, George Zimmerman was acquitted of murder after shooting Trayvon Martin in Florida. “I felt helpless, like there was no hope,” she said. So she changed her life — “the way I thought, the food I ate, the content I consumed” — and suspects this year’s upheavals will serve as a similar wake-up call for others.
“Some people will say: ‘What? How can you say there’s hope?’” she said. “But honestly, this year feels really good. I’m proud to be from here, where we are creating the blueprint for the rest of this country to incite Black liberation. I believe it with all my heart.”