In 1992 the Queen defined one of the more challenging 12 months of her reign with a handy Latin phrase that summed it up perfectly – an annus horribilis (horrible year). She was referring to a string of divorces in the family, a fire at Windsor castle, and a litany of unwanted media stories concerning the infidelities of some of her nearest and not overly dearest. Well, sure, that may have been a demanding year for our sovereign but 2020 takes the cake for the rest of us. Rarely does a year offer the whole planet a terrible, unique and devastating ‘event,’ such as we have witnessed.

Obviously this year has been the year of the Covid-19 pandemic that has travelled the globe and been met with either fierce resistance, lukewarm defiance, or a Keystone Cops’ type head in the sand, do very little approach. Today the global death rate stands at 1.7 million and in some countries – such as the US and the UK, the infection rates are skyrocketing, new lockdown measures are being enforced, and one can only hope that the roll out of approved vaccinations can stem the flow.

Here in New Zealand, well, we have had a different situation and a different strategy. Largely it has been incredibly successful but we still have some way to go. BUT – we can mingle, socialise, travel in country and at this time of the year – gather with our loved ones at Christmas and New Years Eve. We are truly blessed when you consider the lived experiences of those in other countries.

So, to focus on little ol’ New Zealand for  a while – yes – it’s been what’s known in a common phrasing as an ‘average’ year and we can’t lose sight of the personal and economic hardship that many have suffered and continue to suffer but there has been a shed load of surprising and incredible things that have occurred as well.

We went through a delayed election with a high voter turnout. Kiwis exercised their right to vote and the result wasn’t held to the level of deranged self-interested scrutiny that we have seen in other democracies this year.

But the thing that I find most gratifying about the reaction to the pandemic in New Zealand is the various ways that Kiwis have rallied to support each other and to prioritise the well-being of others. A sense of community spirit that I honestly believe we had lost to a large degree has supplanted the notion of individual prosperity and self-interest. There’s surely a pithy cliche about raising to the occasion in the face of adversity and whatever it is, it applies here.

It seems a very, very long time ago now but when prime minister, Jacinda Ardern announced the Level 4 Lockdown in March, I was in Christchurch visiting my Dad. I was hugely torn between staying with him or returning to my family in Auckland. Dad made it easy by insisting that at times like this I needed to be with my kids and he’d be OK. While I knew he was right, it was affirmed by the actions of his neighbours and the people in his street in the following days before I left.

Each day people knocked on the door to talk with him, ask if he needed anything, swapped phone numbers, made commitments to shop for him and then talked with me to assure me they would keep an eye out on my Dad. I can honestly say that those gestures made all the difference and I was grateful to see the best of people at the worst of times.

So 2020 – good effort, you gave it a nudge but you didn’t get to wreak all the havoc you may have wished. A new year is merely days away and there is no escaping the collective sense of optimism for it. That’s exactly why we celebrate on New Years Eve – to say goodbye to the old year and to herald in the new. I’m looking forward to it, with a huge gratitude for what we learned about each other in 2020.