*EDITED, Jan. 1, 11:00 p.m.*
2016 was a tough year.
Ever since the deaths of Alan Rickman, David Bowie and Prince practically coincided with the Brussels airport bombings, the Zika crisis and the Fort McMurray wildfires, everything is 2016’s fault. And this was before the Orlando gay bar massacre, Muhammad Ali’s death, Brexit, the Bastille Day truck attack and the wave of migrant deaths in the Med, some of which I saw with my own eyes. My boss in Bujumbura, the Burundian journalist Vincent Nkeshimana (link in French), died at a point when a steady hand like his was what his community needed most. We also lost the Iwacu journalist Jean Bigirimana, presumably assassinated, and our friend Bélinda Munyana. The election of Donald Trump– a candidate who had by any measure insulted Mexican-Americans, Muslims, veterans, women and people with disabilities, spouted bizarre generalizations about black Americans and enabled white supremacists– seemed like the twisted culmination of it all. There were brutal crackdowns on dissent in Turkey and Burundi (link in French); the Philippines continued its scorched-earth war on drugs. South Sudan faced mass starvation. Holocaust survivor and writer Elie Wiesel, the author of “Night,” died. We lost many of the members of Russia’s Alexandrov Ensemble (better known as one of the two ensembles of the Red Army Choir), elite musicians who were as spellbinding when performing Russian folk songs like Kalinka as they were covering Get Lucky by Daft Punk , Spanish folk songs or the national anthems of visiting delegations. More than 70 people, members of a Brazilian football team and their entourage, were killed in a senseless plane crash. Leonard Cohen and Sharon Jones passed away in the week that followed the US election, and more than a few people thought, “Good for them, they won’t have to live in a post-Trump world.” Around that time, having given up on the year already, I put together the “Loss” triptych.
2016 took on a strange sentience around the time of the elections, and became everyone’s whipping…year? Transferred from a job you liked to a job you hated? Blame 2016. Lose your job? Blame 2016. Get ripped off? Blame 2016. Your significant other leaves you? Blame 2016. Your cat dies? Blame 2016. Get mugged? Blame 2016. Incidentally, my cat did die in 2016, and I did get mugged, and I’d forgotten about that, amid everything else.
It was the year of Standing Rock, of Black Lives Matter and of the Bernie Sanders splash. Hurricane Mathew devastated Haiti, confirming that island nation’s status as the republic of Can’t Catch a Break. An earthquake obliterated an Italian town. Fidel Castro died. We lost John Glenn, the astronaut, and Gene Wilder, the face of Willy Wonka. I haven’t read a single article that includes all the deaths of prominent people this year (although this, from the BBC, does come closest, including people I hadn’t even thought of, such as the inventor of the disposable diaper ). Prominent people and ordinary people met sad ends in distressing numbers. By the time the Berlin Christmas Market truck attack rolled around, people had gotten so grimly used to this wanton violence that it wasn’t even on the front page of every paper. Al Jazeera considers empathy for refugees as probably the year’s most significant death. The grinding Syrian conflict reduced the world’s oldest continuously inhabited city, Aleppo, to dust (and if you only have time to click one link here, see these before-and-after photos). George Michael, Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds passed away during Christmas week– lest anyone dare to think 2016 was done with this nonsense. Iconic Toronto discount store Honest Ed’s shut its doors, leaving a gaping hole in Toronto as far as a lot of people are concerned. And now they’re telling us that 2016 will be a second longer?
True to form, as 2016 was burning itself out, nearly 40 people were killed in a terror attack in an Istanbul nightclub.
On one level, ascribing living-being status to a year is silly, part of the same search for patterns that makes people see dragons in clouds or a crucifix in a potato (link in French). On the other hand, a year has an end date! Sunday, we sleep it off, and Monday, we start fresh.
John Oliver’s exploding 1812 Overture salute to 2016 describes how many of us, myself included, feel about this year. It was a rotter. A lost job, the end of a contract I liked, getting mugged in Winnipeg, repeatedly disability-shamed in St-Boniface, snubbed in Montreal and ripped off in Quebec City, a ridiculous lawsuit against a site I love to write for, a lot of loneliness and questions. On the other hand, it did have its bright spots. I got over the hump of 1000 Twitter followers– that’s got to count for something. It was an Olympic year, and I spent evening after evening watching hypnotic gymnasts, synchronized swimmers and track-and-field athletes. Burundi was in the news for something other than strife as Francine Niyonsaba won silver in the 800m! I did get to work in the Med with SOS Méditerranée, probably the most life-affirming job I’ve ever had and ever will have. I even appeared on PBS NewsHour defending asylum seekers — couldn’t have seen that coming! I went to Puerto Rico. I interviewed the writer Yann Martel, the poet Ketty Nivyabandi, and Syrian refugees. I broke into Vice, Canadaland and the Huffington Post, and became one of the go-to freelancers covering disability and homelessness. I attended Leonard Cohen’s impromptu vigil. I didn’t meet my Person with a capital P, but I met some lovely people. It was a tough year, but not a total loss.
Depending on how your 2016 went, you may not want to go back over this year. If you do, have a look at these.
Radio-Canada’s own snarky lookbacks, in the form of a very irreverent 1-hour TV special known as le Bye-Bye (link in French, may be geoblocked) and the inevitable satirical year-in-review led by Infoman (ditto). No matter how you feel about our politicians, you really should admire their sportsmanship…
Le Devoir’s Year in Pictures in Québec, Canada and the world (text in French, but who really needs text, right?)
ABC News’ World in Images, which combines the tragic (aftermath of the Nice attacks, migrants swimming for their lives in the Med) with the reassuring (migrant kids, too young to grasp the magnitude of what their families have gone through, playing blanket toss in a field in Macedonia. The New York Times year in review also includes some beautiful shots from around the world, from the epoch-making (Trump’s and Hillary’s supporters’ faces on you-know-what night, a Cuban soldier mourning the death of Castro) to the quotidian (a Cuban grandmother sweeping out her front room in just the right light).
Huffington Post chose to commemorate the year by showcasing off-the-beaten-track photoessays from minority photographers, many of which have nothing to do with world news (refreshing, hmm?)
I’m not necessarily a Barack Obama fangirl, but for some reason this photoessay of his last year in office, capturing him in and out of work mode, playing with kids and dancing with strangers, stepping out of Air Force One and getting coconut milk all over himself, fascinated me. Right this way to see Barack Obama, the person.
This New Yorker feature on Leonard Cohen, written just before the release of his final album, is probably the year’s best piece of English-language journalism.
I wrote this post in early December about attempts to stop the world from falling apart— please donate money, time or supplies to one of the listed causes if you can!
If you’re a fellow secular humanist, you’ll enjoy the year in science and society as reviewed in this Seth Andrews podcast (if you’ve never listed to Seth Andrews but you are a secular humanist, just follow the link and trust me).
On a lighter note, Huffpost’s video montage of dancing cops, CBC-watching moose and Mounties cuddling beavers will make you hate 2016 a little bit less, eh.
The Onion’s contribution to the deluge of summaries…Worst Things We Spilled on Our Shirts in 2016— this will not end well, but it’s a quick, harmless laugh when you need it most!
And, because we all need it and you deserve it after reading through to the end, all the good things that happened in 2016.
(Photo credits: Top: photos-public-domain.com. Middle (Francine Niyonsaba): Facebook. Bottom (Leonard Cohen): Rama via Wikimedia Commons