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By Monica Brancheau

2020 was supposed to be the big banner year for celebrations in my house. We had a son graduating college, a daughter graduating high school, a family trip to Spain (so that my kids could meet some family for the first time), a son heading to Europe for an internship, etc.

We all have that list — that list of what 2020 should have been.

Instead, I feel like I’m living in a “Brave New World” that’s ¼ cup dystopian fiction, ¼ cup dark comedy, ¼ cup Brothers Grimm fairy tales, and ¼ cup Mary Poppins.

Let us start with dystopian fiction. We’re pretty much straight-up living a dystopian novel or movie right now. The novel coronavirus has completely stopped, slowed, or changed everything about our lives. The entire world has responded to the virus differently. We don’t know what to believe, who to trust, or what to do. I would be lying if I said that I don’t often dream about the idea of becoming a Canadian. Not only is Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau easy on the eyes, but he’s also one of the many world leaders who has handled this crisis well. Most dystopian novels have a “lesson” that the characters learn about how their previous life in many ways was unhealthy and unhindered. There have definitely been lessons about the value of family, the value of slowing down. Consequently, it has stripped many decision-makers of their masks and costumes, and now we get to see them in plain sight through their handling of this crisis.

Dark comedies make light of subject matters that are generally considered taboo. It’s often difficult to find humor in serious issues, but dark comedy allows to dissect subjects that are serious or too painful to discuss in unorthodox ways. For far too long, we haven’t been having honest conversations about race, and now that’s on the forefront. Not only is our country grappling with a virus, but we’re also struggling with human rights and the fact the black lives do matter. It’s not enough to just say it anymore; change happens with action.

Brothers Grimm fairy tales make perfect allegories for this time. Remember in “Little Red Riding Hood” when the innocent young girl believes that the wolf lying in bed is her grandma? Or when Hansel and Gretel believed that the old lady in the house was kind and generous until she shoved one of them into an oven? We as humans implicitly trust people to be well-intentioned and kind. There is so much divisiveness in our country right now that when interacting with a stranger, I wonder if I’m dealing with a grandma or a wolf. When I listen to the leaders of our country, I wonder if we’re all about to get thrown into the oven. Where exactly is the trail of breadcrumbs going to lead us in the next few months?

The scene in Mary Poppins where the titular character grabs items from her big bag and pulls out a coatrack and other enormous objects that could never have possibly fit in there was mesmerizing. Now we’re living in a twisted Mary Poppins world where when you put your hand in the bag, you pull out a ventilator, then next you pull out thousands of unemployment claims, and then you pull out a video of George Floyd, and then you pull out crazed parents trying to balance work and kids, and further still you pull out a “murder hornet.” Every day a new crisis is pulled out of Mary Poppins’ bag.

WTF?! I say this out loud every day right now. What more could happen? What more terrible things could be said, how much more divided could we become? How many more lives need to be lost to the two main problems plaguing us, the virus and systemic racism?

This ultimate pause button has given us all a moment to reevaluate, reprioritize, and readjust our lives. It has also taken off the rose-colored glasses and forced us to directly confront some of the most pervasive injustices of our time in healthcare and race relations.

Even so, people still fall in love, have babies, and find joy during these dystopian/dark comedy times. There are reasons to celebrate, albeit the celebrations have had to take on new shapes. Graduations happen in cars, weddings happen virtually, birthdays are celebrated with drive-bys. After all, a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.
Let’s hope that the year of 2020 thrusts us all into reevaluating ourselves, our communities, our politics, and our country. Diamonds are made under tremendous pressure and stress, and one can only hope that this time of stress will make our people and our country the diamonds we are meant to be.

Monica Brancheau

BIO:

A woman who has had multiple careers, mom of four and passion for dance, Monica Brancheau is a Michigan native and graduate of the University of Michigan who then never left Ann Arbor.  She has decades of experience in working with children’s issues from education to non-profit work in teaching in urban settings, non-profit management, marketing and fundraising. She is currently the Director of Ele’s Place Ann Arbor.  When not working you can find her gardening, reading, writing, listening to music, and spending time with her treasured family.

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