When it comes to bad years, it’s pretty tough to top 1347. That was the year the Black Death kicked into overdrive, contaminating major cities in Europe and Asia. Ultimately, that epidemic killed more than 50 million people over the next few years.
By any estimation, that’s an epically horrendous year. Though 2020 seems ready to jump up and shout, “What, you think that’s miserable? Dude, hold my beer.”
One measure of tracking how awful a year is tracking the folks we lose over time. 2020 started off on a downer note just a few days after New Year’s when brain cancer took Neil Peart, the drummer and lyricist from Rush.
If you’re a rock fan between the ages of 20 and Methuselah, you’ve madly air drummed in time to Peart’s riffs in “Tom Sawyer” or the instrumental “YYZ.” Named the fourth-greatest drummer ever by Rolling Stone, Peart was only 67 when he passed.
Speaking of too young, three weeks later 2020 took Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna in a helicopter crash that killed nine people in all.
Bryant, 41 at the time of his death, arguably belongs on the NBA’s Mount Rushmore as a five-time champion, an 18-time All Star and the league’s 2008 Most Valuable Player.
Personally, I loved to despise Bryant, but there’s no denying he was a transcendent talent.
By March, 2020 shifted from targeting famous people to killing the masses. You can blame the COVID-19 fatalities on a perfect storm: a lethal virus meeting clueless elected leaders and an inattentive populace, or you can chalk it up to 2020 doing more 2020 things.
The pandemic count at press time? Over 15 million cases worldwide and 620,000 dead. I’ll spare you the latest from Arizona, which seems determined to add World COVID Champion 2020 to that lonely Arizona Diamondbacks 2001 World Series crown.
On the positive side, I’m halfway through this column and I haven’t mentioned President Trump.
I’m trying to stay away from that subject to cut down on my hate mail.
Plus, there’s the folks who track me down online to let me have it every time I mention the president. Had Donald Trump been king in 1347, I absolutely believe his court jester would have put out a parchment press release longer than the Silk Road.
It would have labeled the Black Death the “Mongol Flu” and proclaimed that the world was “better off without that other half of the population, because they weren’t our best people anyway.”
Then Trump would have raided France and given himself credit for “ending the 100 Years War more than 90 years ahead of schedule.”
I still wouldn’t put that past him if things get desperate heading into Election Day.
Meanwhile, 2020 continues to pick off some of America’s best and brightest.
Hugh Downs, as smart and classy a newsman as has walked God’s green earth, passed away July 1 in Scottsdale. Downs was everything today’s network anchor clowns are not: fair, strong minded and able to probe without being a jerk.
Strength was also the hallmark of civil rights icon John Lewis, 80, who left us last week at a moment when we need his dignity and unerring instinct for justice. Lewis was 23 when he spoke at the 1963 March on Washington.
He survived police batons, segregationist attacks and 33 years in Congress to emerge a legend. I don’t imagine Lewis quit a day in his life, which is inspiration enough not to give up on 2020.
This year is surely a test, however. And to this point, we are being stretched near to breaking.