When I think about 2020, a flash of images roll through my mind’s eye. I think of the night I learned Tom Hanks got COVID-19. Protests in the street. Sitting with my girlfriend watching viral TikTok videos. Carole Baskin. President Donald Trump standing at Lafayette Park with a Bible as tear gas lingers near.

You wouldn’t be off base to say that 2020 was unlike anything we have seen before, especially millennials. And that’s saying something, since we’ve lived through 9/11 and arguably the greatest economic collapse in United States history.

The year 2020 started off on a horrific note with the passing of Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant. Hearing about a norovirus traveling through Asia was alarming. All that “2020 clear vision” hype started to feel empty. For many, 2020 was supposed to be the year. A new year in a new decade.

It was the chosen one, you might say.

Then it happened. A complete lockdown of the country. Businesses closed their doors. We were ordered to stay home. Now, we wear masks at the fear of infecting another or getting infected ourselves. The coronavirus pandemic changed everything, and we’re still not sure when it will end and when the cavalry will arrive.

The United States recently became the fourth country to recommend a COVID-19 vaccine after the FDA voted for emergency use of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, as the Deseret News reported. The vaccine has already started to roll out across the country. Nurses in Utah have already received it.

And on Friday, a second vaccine (Moderna) was approved.

It was an important year for racial justice and protests, too. The summer saw the Black Lives Matter moment become a movement. People flooded the streets in support for equality, justice and fairness for all.

You can’t pick one moment to define 2020. In some ways, it’s been four years in one. Stories big enough to define an entire year — like the impeachment of President Donald Trump (you probably forgot that happened, didn’t you?) — are forgettable next to the hundreds of thousands of deaths from COVID-19 in the United States.

I am going to try and walk us through this year as best I can, breaking down what I see as the four various quarters of the year. And maybe, hopefully, we’ll see something and learn something about 2020 that we didn’t know before.

The first quarter — Kobe Bryant, impeachment and the looming storm

You never forget where you are when major events happen. For Kobe Bryant’s death, I was driving to Walmart. A TMZ alert busted through my phone. Kobe Bryant dead at 40. Twitter was asking whether it was real. It couldn’t be, right? And then it slowly became clear that it was true. I remember strolling through Walmart, scrolling through my phone. How many people were on that helicopter? Who really died? What really happened?

If there was ever a moment to let us know that 2020 wasn’t going to be normal, the death of Kobe was surely it.

Not long after, the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump continued onward. The Senate voted to acquit him in the trial, which seemed to have lasted for months and months and months. A president impeached and acquitted. It’s not something you see every day.

And then the pandemic hit.

The second quarter — Pandemic panic

March 11.

I remember everything about that day. My boss told me he was going to be out sick. He had strep throat. I joked it could be COVID-19 and that I wouldn’t see him for six months. I haven’t seen him in almost nine.

My girlfriend and I went to Gourmandise to have dinner with another couple. That day, Italy’s spike in COVID-19 cases was terrifying the world. The coronavirus that had begun circulating in China was now threatening the world. But we hadn’t really heard of it hitting the United States badly yet. It had begun to work its way through New York and Washington state, then it slowly crept across the country.

My phone buzzed. My girlfriend’s did, too. We checked our alerts and saw Tom Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, had been diagnosed with COVID-19. The NBA had suspended its season due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The next few days were a blur. I remember running to Walmart and Smith’s to buy toilet paper, water and all the essentials. I can picture standing in a line that stretched from one end of Smith’s all the way to the back. Panic mode set in for all of us. What would this mean for our future? Would we see people again? Would life ever be safe? And, at the time, none of us knew what this meant for us. None of us knew we were risking it all by not wearing masks or social distancing. We still thought things were normal, just in a not normal world.

So began the days of quarantine and lockdown. Working from home started. Plenty of people lost their jobs. Schools went virtual. Concerts were held online. TikTok videos galore. Bingeing “Tiger King” because everyone wanted to feel something. Finding the right reality show or Twitch stream channel to enjoy that day. Or the next day. Or the day after that. We had to find new ways to entertain ourselves. Movie theaters had closed down. Bowling alleys were locked up. Everything we did, we had to consider with caution. Would this lead to me getting the coronavirus? Would it lead to transmitting it? Could we put everything at risk?

But, at the same time, the pandemic opened us up to new ways of thinking. Front-line workers became immediate heroes. Nurses, grocery store employees, Uber drivers — all of them became heroes overnight, keeping our society functioning and saving lives on a daily basis.

Embracing heroics brought us together. We united to save the country and to save lives. And then something would bring us all together out of isolation. Justice and the promise of creating a better future.

It began with the death of George Floyd.

The third quarter — Protests, hoops and pandemic surges

George Floyd’s death changed the world during the summer of 2020. Floyd was pinned to the pavement when a white Minneapolis police officer put a knee on his neck for what prosecutors said was 8 minutes and 46 seconds.

Cellphone footage of the moment ignited protests and violence across the U.S. and around the world. Floyd quickly became a worldwide symbol of injustice.

That symbol led to protests and marches throughout the country. Salt Lake City made national headlines for its protests. Gov. Gary Herbert ordered a curfew. This was a similar story across our nation. Protests, demonstrations and calls for unity, justice and safety. For days without end, these protests erupted in the streets — peacefully and violently.

But it wasn’t just George Floyd. There was the death of Breonna Taylor. Taylor was killed during a “drug raid gone wrong,” according to The Associated Press. Taylor, a Black woman who was an emergency medical worker, had become the face of a national movement against racial injustice.

At the same time, the NBA organized its return. The basketball league had become a symbol of the pandemic’s impact on the world since it was the league that shut down at the same time as the rest of the country. The NBA made sure to continue the conversation. The words “Black Lives Matter” stamped each of the courts down in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Commercials and advertisements were planned.

The league kicked off again in August, bringing us our first glimpse at NBA bubble basketball. All the playoff teams competed within the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex down in Orlando. Players and teams continued to spread messages of hope and justice soon after. Games were canceled in the name of justice — specifically for Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

And a central message hovered around the basketball league’s return — a single word, in fact.

That word was “vote.”

The fourth quarter — The election

Voting became the central message for the end of the year. The Republican and Democratic parties held their conventions virtually. People tuned into presidential debates between President Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, as well as Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris.

Questions about what would happen in the 2020 election hung in the air. Some questioned mail-in voting. Claims of voter fraud were thrown out on social media. The U.S. Postal Service was even questioned for how it would handle mailed votes.

Voters flooded to the polls in record numbers. Many voted from home due to the pandemic by mail-in voting. Others waited in lengthy lines. In the end, it was Biden who was elected president.

The year ended with a divided and polarized nation questioning its very beliefs in democracy and the process. This year has challenged us all in ways we never imagined.

Postgame — What the year will mean

Christmas is around the corner. The NBA will launch a new season toward the end of the month (preseason games have already begun). Vaccines to help stop the novel coronavirus are on the way and have arrived in Utah.

It’s strange to sit here and write this piece, rethinking all the problems we faced in the beginning of the year and how it’s all resurfacing again with a COVID-19 surge. You could argue those problems have always been here, bubbling beneath the surface. Maybe we forgot about them for a bit. I know not everyone did. But what was once new and foreign is happening again, only this time it feels familiar. Lockdown orders, suspended events and challenges to the norm. But we’re seeing a new normal.

There’s still so much known, and still so much unknown. We’ve been through the wringer this year. We saw deaths of major athletes and celebrities. We experienced the full effect of a global pandemic. We voted in an election — more than any other time in our history. We saw protests and learned more about our fight for equality.

All in one year. Or four. Who knows.

I don’t know what this year will look like once we’re far enough away from it. We tend to bemoan the previous year once we’re on the cusp of a new one. But let’s move five to 10 years down the road. How do we reflect on 2020? Is it the point where everything broke? Or is it a turning point when we decided to come together again and unite as a country, as a people? Do we remember any of this at all? Does time heal the scars of 2020?

Our culture is often a window in our lives. What’s streamlining through our culture helps us understand where we are as a society. In the beginning of 2020, I would have said we were a grieving nation over the loss of a basketball icon in Kobe Bryant. In the middle, I would have said we’re a nation trying to understand our “new normal” or “new now,” while also fighting for the rights of every American. And these last few months, I’d say we’re a nation looking to find that bright gleaming sun on the horizon.

And we are those things right now. We grieve for the thousands we’ve lost. We’re still unsure what our new now looks like. We’re fighting for the rights of all people.

And we’re looking ahead to that light on the horizon.