The Year That Glittered: Reflections on 2020

by Emily Kemme

My 82-year-old mother insists that 2020 was the year that wasn’t. But since she is all too accustomed to me disagreeing with her about many things, the fact we have diverse opinions on this topic isn’t earth-shattering. Because in my experience, as far as happenings go, the year of the coronavirus pandemic was like none other.

It was a year of everything, and throughout its twelve months, the year never stopped glittering. For nine months now, there have been heart-stopping moments where we waited, counting days, deaths, and the number of open hospital beds left to fill with patients, who when stricken with this novel virus, cannot breathe.

The oddness of this year, coupled with stress, highlighted truth

I have noticed that an object can be iridescent only when diffracted light shines on it. Without light, its glitter remains hidden in murky darkness. In that, things can only glitter when light reveals their true nature. 

In the year 2020, glitter exposed discord and disfunction. We anticipated an election that would put an end to a malignant Presidential administration, one serving only the man in the Oval Office. We endured an election cycle that seemingly had no end. Horrified, we watched the President use frivolous lawsuits, arm-twisting, and threats to elected officials, judges, and citizens, attempting to invalidate election results once he proved soundly defeated. An attempt at a Presidential coup d’état — however seditious, however poorly executed — and a possibility duly addressed by our country’s Founders when crafting the Constitution, is not a mainstream occurrence in the annals of the United States. 

In the midst of partisan warring, so extreme the likes of which has not been seen for 150 years, there was social unrest. People protested racial injustice on the heels of the George Floyd and Breonna Taylor murders — and so many, many more black lives lost at the hands of unscrupulous police. 

Close to home, we watched our world burn. Orange smoke suffocated Colorado’s bluebird ceiling, with thick black ash of incinerated forests drifting onto porches and lawn furniture all summer long and into the fall. Because of the fires, staying at home and abiding by mandated state orders became all that much less palatable. Before the fires started in mid-August — the Cameron Peak Fire being the first of a set — we could at least escape for a few hours to cycle county roads and wish we were cycling anyplace else but here.

There were so many things we experienced at every twist and turn in 2020 that with each next permutation of unlikely combinations, we wondered what more of everything could be left. 

And the glitter never stopped flowing from our emotional faucets

There was so much of everything that we wished we could have more of nothing. The mundane, the quotidian, the normality — oh, how much we missed it. 

reflections on 2020
In the early months of the shutdowns, a caring community donated meals to feed our pandemic heroes — hospital and other frontline workers. (Poster: UCHealth)

In that, 2020 was a year of blinders off. A near-constant firehose of information exacerbated the stress and uncertainty of what was the right way to proceed — that if we took the wrong action, we might usher in disease, death, and economic frailty. There were periods of frenzy, which when tempered by repetition, became dulled into familiarity, until once again, the drumbeat of the media harvested yet another topic for us to latch onto, promoting a steadily roiling landscape of panicky moments.

In this year of nothing that was everything, I learned that fish in a tank glitter in water, but only while they are alive, and only when their LED aquarium lighting is on. My collie puppies’ fur glitters effortlessly in sunlight, while my aged dogs’ coats have become dull and lackluster, no matter how much brushing I bestow. Tears glitter, too, whether induced by anger or fear, joy and love, longing, loneliness, or loss. Tears are shed from hopelessness, too. Those tears glitter no differently from other tears, yet as they are mostly experienced when we are alone, are they tears we can see? 

There are glittering falsehoods and fables spun by our elected leaders, and then there is the glitter of madness

Our daughter Isabelle, diagnosed with bipolar disorder at 19, struggled to accept her illness for years. We struggled alongside her, mourning the loss, missing the shining star she had been. A high school Valedictorian, mental illness robbed Isabelle of her self-assurance and drive. Medications clouded her mind and stole her creativity. Sluggish and unenthusiastic about what seemed a death sentence for a promising future, as do many who struggle with a mind out of control, she resorted to alcohol to ease her pain. At age 25, she gave up, determined to live without medication —

Her mind tormented and psychotic, she left us, spending time in a psychiatric hospital, and on release, becoming homeless for five months. When she reached out to us on March 19, Colorado was ten days into phase one of what would be an ever-changing landscape of business and school shutdowns. Isabelle wanted to come home.

I first saw a Covid-19 meme on a video, one depicting huge spiked inflatables rolling down empty city streets and scaling building exteriors. Next came the blurred, spiky fuzz ball, looking much like one of my dryer lint balls studded with red velour sock shrapnel.

Covid-19 vaccine
Emergency use of mRNA vaccines to prevent Covid-19 was authorized in December 2020. Created in nine months, this record time for vaccine development drew on existing technology and research conducted by the German company, BioNTech, in collaboration with Pfizer, a U.S. pharmaceutical powerhouse. (Photo: “Hand holding a syringe and injecting vaccine into Coronavirus. Covid-19 vaccination concept” by is licensed under CC BY 2.0).

In the early lockdown days, I divided my time between panic scrolling about the mess the world had gotten itself into — reading every science article I could to understand something, anything, about this new virus that had popped up in Wuhan, China —, and devouring articles on how to manage and treat psychosis.

My husband, Dr. K., an oncologist for 29 years, found himself transitioning backwards to his residency days, wearing surgical scrubs to treat his clinic patients, returning home to strip down to underwear in the garage lest his clothing infect Isabelle and me as he headed to the shower. He labeled our situation succinctly. It was an intersection of two tornadoes.

Experiencing life in lockdown differed for everyone

Friends spent the first month or so of the shutdowns frantically sourcing hand sanitizer and Clorox wipes because the Centers for Disease Control wasn’t sure how long the virus lived on surfaces. I cleaned haphazardly, wiping down door knobs, my cellphone, and scrupulously sterilizing kitchen counter tops, knowing it to be a fruitless task. Isabelle was certain she had discovered the cure to Covid, and talking to herself in an endless monotone, she carried on conversations with people who didn’t exist. When the voices she heard didn’t agree with her, she yelled at them.

Friends posted on Facebook how their days were quiet. Boredom threatened to overtake their lives. The schools closed, restaurants were shuttered by the Colorado State Department of Health and Environment, and businesses offered curbside pickup.

When people were first ordered to stay in their houses, there were toilet paper and grocery shortages. As state health departments cautiously began reopening society, masks became the next must-have item. With PPE’s — personal protection equipment — scarce and reserved for those on the health care front lines — home-sewn masks proliferated, with people trying to outdo one another in numbers sewn.

We cancelled one vacation after another — a visit to our son Harrison and his wife, Alex in Atlanta; a bike trip to Santa Fe; the June trip to Atlanta, rescheduled on the off-chance that this pandemic thing was simply hype and would fade away. The bicycling trip to Prague? That got cancelled, too.  

Through it all during those days, Isabelle ranted. She screamed. She disappeared on long walks late into the night during which we were frantic — would she come home, or worse — in a skewed conception of priorities, would she contract the virus and infect us?

In early April, in tandem with millions, we Zoomed with friends, never letting on that Isabelle had returned. She needed protection, if not from us, then from herself.

On Zoom, millions of pixels on the computer screen glittered, capturing our images into tiny squares. There was no talking at once, no cacophony of excitement, no heated conversations. We longed for tactile touches, but knew those could infect us.

Quiet times brought opportunities for healing

As spring turned to summer, Isabelle’s willingness to talk with her psychiatrist and therapist on virtual visits began to bear fruit. The doctor, using the tried-and-true method of trial-and-error, slowly encouraged her, with us alongside, into taking a pharmaceutical cocktail that might bring the return of the Isabelle we knew.

In that, Isabelle’s madness stopped glittering. The daughter I remembered from years past re-emerged, damaged, but determined to heal. There was a glimmer of hope.

Bipolar Disorder is not a flaw
Isabelle (aka, Madeleine), created this poster for her Visual Communications class. She is enrolled again in college with plans for her next steps. (Poster: Madeleine Kemme)

Summer of 2020 saw socially distanced cocktail patio parties with our Zoom Covid bubble, the one highly anticipated activity on Saturday night replacing what had been an often hectic pre-pandemic social schedule. Five couples and Isabelle, each sitting in BYO lawn chairs, wearing masks, never touching, no hugs allowed. We cheered on Isabelle’s return to sanity. And we cheered on the health care heroes guided by Dr. Anthony Fauci’s steadfast assurances that we could get through this.

If only.

Rule makers, rule breakers, and doing what’s best for the herd

If only we followed the guidelines, wore the masks, shut the businesses, closed the schools, and prevented restaurants from serving too many people indoors. The do’s and don’ts of the list were overwhelming, and not all chose to comply. Masks became a visible banner of a culture war, one that had been brewing for decades. In bubbling to the surface, treading on bleak, unfamiliar ground, we came to see people for who they truly were. 

This virus has done more than damage our lungs and kill nearly 300,000 Americans as I write. The pandemic ripped off the facade of our civilization. The masks we wear hide more than our breath, breath that kills others. They mask hatred for the other, the different, the opposition. Those who refuse to mask, believing it weak, show their scorn for those who do all that more willingly. The virus has stripped us of caring, kindness, and reason when it doesn’t fit the confines of our belief systems.

But tellingly, the year has also been filled with pockets of peaceful silence. Is this nature’s way of telling us that we needed to slow down? That life in the year 2020 is too complicated, too fast, too much? That we needed to step back for introspection, to solve problems at home in our families, our communities, our country?

Many will dispute me on this. The damage to the economy, they’ll cry. The lives lost. No, those permanent scars did not have to happen, if common sense and public health policy, learned from pandemics and communal disease suffered by societies past, had some effect on our actions. If people had listened to those who came before us.

reflections on 2020
In seeing the Saks Fifth Avenue 2020 holiday windows, one might imagine that each light shines in memory of those who have succumbed to Covid-19 in 2020. (Photo: “Saks Fifth Avenue Christmas Lights, New York” by mattk1979 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

I pull a greeting card from its box to enclose with a Hanukkah gift I’ll mail to Harrison and Alex. If we are lucky, if the vaccine rollout stays on schedule, we might see them next summer. It will be nearly two years since we’ve last hugged.

A cloud of glitter comes out of the card box, falling on my lap, my desk, the floor. The glitter is green. It is an ever-present reminder of the things that didn’t happen this year, and the too many things that did. But as a reminder that love is evergreen, it offers an opportunity for reflections on the possibilities of peace.

I was honored to contribute this piece to the Greeley Creative District’s Time Capsule Project, A 20:20 Retrospective and View to the Future by Greeley Creatives. The Time Capsule will be opened in 2070.

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Jean Morrell January 11, 2021 - 2:25 pm

I always love reading your writing! as you paint such vivid pictures. You captured so many of the emotions from 2020. It has been a year of incredible loss and pain. It was so good to see Isabelle on a Zoom call. You are both constants for her as she moves through her challenging journey. Thinking of glitter, I ironically remember the virus being compared to glitter in describing the difficulty in removing it because it so easily spreads and sticks to surfaces. I like your description better reflecting warm and radiant light.

Emily Kemme January 11, 2021 - 6:00 pm

Oh Jean, yes, the year has been so difficult, particularly for you. We all miss Pete in our lives — along with regular and normal life. I’m looking forward to seeing and talking with you again, gaining your invaluable insight. I hadn’t heard about the virus = glitter comparison. That’s a very graphic way to think of it!

David Alpine Alkire January 7, 2021 - 1:26 pm

Good read! Curious how people in the future will look back on 2020. Thanks for capturing the year with such accuracy

Naomi Kuttner January 6, 2021 - 7:53 pm

Emily, you really touched my heart. You have such a way to describe things so that we are right there with you. You have no idea how many of us worried about Isabell when she was missing and even after she came home. And most of us have shared the lack of human touch with our children as you have with Harrison and Alex .We love you and your whole family. It took a lot of strength to write that and your eloquent style came through shining or as you might say – glittering. I’m so proud to know you and grateful that you shared your meaningful words with us during this unprecedented, tumultuous yet calming time

Janice January 6, 2021 - 8:46 am

Emily – I started to read this several days ago when I was struck by the beauty and depth of your words. I decided to put the piece aside until I had some quiet time – no blaring CNN election news – no dire warnings from Dr. Fauci and others. I was rewarded this morning when I enjoyed my solitude and your beautiful words. You captured 2020 so well. A year that I had hated and in which, for the first time, I had begun yelling obscenities at the nightly news, was thus reexamined in my glitterly silence. I can let it go and hope, pray and strive for a better 2021.
In addition to your marvelous talent, I so appreciate your friendship and that of your family. My love to you, Dr. K and Isabelle.

Emily Kemme January 6, 2021 - 9:41 am

Thank you for this incredibly heart-warming comment, Janice. It put a big smile on my face — hoping it’s a permanent one to celebrate us all moving forward in 2021! And thank you all for your support of my writing and family over the years. I appreciate you all so much!

Marcia VanDriel January 4, 2021 - 8:58 pm

Emily, beautifully written. Your words ring true for me.

Vincent David Martinez January 4, 2021 - 11:13 am

Them some heavy words!! I’m speechless…hope all is well Emily

Jill Nelson January 4, 2021 - 11:13 am

Emily, what a stunning piece of writing. Greeley is lucky to have that in their time capsule. I’m sorry things have been so difficult for Isabelle, but joyous to hear that she is doing much better! My thoughts are with you always and hope to see you in 2021!

Valerie Diehl January 4, 2021 - 11:12 am

Truly gifted: great analogies, relatable, inspiring, knowledgeable and a giver of hope.
Thank you💜 we needed your words

Mary Demchok January 4, 2021 - 11:11 am

Beautifully written Emily thank you for sharing the glitter

Kelly Leeser Nichols January 4, 2021 - 11:10 am

You are a gifted and inspirational writer Emily. I’m so glad to hear that your daughter is doing better!❤️

Emily Kemme January 4, 2021 - 11:17 am

Thank you.

Rebecca Nicole Torres January 4, 2021 - 11:09 am

Beautiful. I am just moved.
Hugs to the family “across the street.”

Monica January 3, 2021 - 1:08 pm

I failed to mention that I was glad in your opening picture the rabbit brought a gift to the hedgehog..That is a beautiful beginning for the New Year. This is an unexpected gift! and probably an unexpected friendship

Monica January 3, 2021 - 1:01 pm

Your writing, , once again, is a work of art. When I originally said “the year of nothing” now seems that yes, our hurry scurry lives came to a grinding halt. However, as you eloquently point out, the world of frivolousness may have been put on the back burner but more has come of that. Even the socializing skill of Zooming made a forefront. The medical advances came forward alarmingly quickly and learning how to exist at home for days on end reminded all of us that a lot can be accomplished in our homes alone. People began cooking daily in their beautiful kitchens with their shiny pots and pans not for company but for their families alone. People began creating at home again, as sewing, knitting, baking, drawing and who knows what else. Some said they’re closets never looked better. and many finally established a workout routine without the use of the gym.

Difficulty in these times was magnified by the negativity and carelessness of the many leaders of Government. But hopefully we will survive this massive division in our country. So “nothingness” became a whole lot of important decisions for our lives.

Elaine Foe January 3, 2021 - 10:56 am

Well written and glad to hear of help from bipolar winning out

Elena Batman January 3, 2021 - 10:56 am

Oh Emily, this is one of the most poignant and beautiful things I have read in a long, long time. It made me think and feel and cry, and at the end I felt a bit lighter and hopeful. The power- and magic- of glitter. Thank you and Happy New Year.

Sarah L. MacQuiddy January 3, 2021 - 10:55 am

Emily, you did an incredible job on this piece. Start from your heart – I felt your 2020 journey Like I was with you every step. Hugs to all for a wonderful 2021.

Norma Alkire January 3, 2021 - 10:54 am

Love this

Cindy Wiseman January 3, 2021 - 10:54 am

💕🙏💕 Thank you for sharing your heart, Emily. And thank you for organizing the meals for the hospitals in those early days!!! It gave me something to look forward to getting out of the house for!! Prayers for Isabelle as she continues her journey towards her best self and prayers for all of us as we continue to make sense of the state of our nation!!!

Emily Kemme January 3, 2021 - 10:59 am

Thank you for giving your time so selflessly to the meal program last spring. It certainly took a team to make it work!

Cindy Wiseman January 3, 2021 - 11:00 am

It truly was a pleasure!!!

Travis Smith January 3, 2021 - 10:54 am

I love your story and didn’t want it to end. Captivating! Thank you so much for sharing. Interesting that this is a time capsule piece so your audience is for those who would be readers 50 years from now. I needed this now and didn’t know it until I read the first line of your message. The chances of me being around in 50 years are pretty slim so I’m glad that was getting your post in my feed. Emily, you’re Amazing and so is your family! Please say hi to them.

Emily Kemme January 3, 2021 - 10:58 am

Thank you. As it happens, the story is on my blog — although it was part of the time capsule project, we were allowed to share it after the capsule was sealed on 12/31/20. In fact, we were encouraged to share it! The reality is, my blog won’t be around in 50 years, so it’s ok. We hope you’re enjoying your incredible new position!

Fatima Groom January 3, 2021 - 10:53 am

This is wonderful! Emily, bravo!!

Kathy Newman January 3, 2021 - 10:52 am

Amazing writing!

Stacy Brown January 3, 2021 - 10:52 am

Beautifully written. Thank you for showing us the glitter.

Valerie Whitehead January 3, 2021 - 10:51 am

Beautifully written Emily and you will be in my prayers, as will our community.

Jocelyn Magnusson Shires January 3, 2021 - 10:51 am

So happy to hear what happened? I often thought of how frantic you were and prayed she came home. We miss a lot being so far from Greeley now. Please give my best to Michelle and give Monica a squeeze from me. I miss her so.

Emily Kemme January 3, 2021 - 10:58 am

I will. And I’m so glad to see your progress back to health, too! You are so strong!

Patricia Streeter January 3, 2021 - 10:50 am

Emily – absolutely amazing!

Michele I Vetting January 2, 2021 - 8:29 pm

Such beautiful words and insights, Emily. It has been a difficult year to capture, but you have succeeded with your heartfelt thoughts. I’m so relieved to hear that Isabelle is safely back with you and accepting treatment. I wish you a year of peace.

Pat Campbell January 2, 2021 - 2:30 pm

As well you should have been!
Your impact on this city is great!

Emily Kemme January 2, 2021 - 2:30 pm

Thank you.

Bryan Whitney January 2, 2021 - 2:29 pm

I remember at Scott elementary school, we buried a time capsule (circa 1970) that I believe was supposed to be opened in 2000.
I wonder what ever became of that?
Pegi Jones, Emily Kemme Darrah Westrup Perry Buck
Do any of you “girls” remember this?

Emily Kemme January 2, 2021 - 2:31 pm

I do vaguely remember that (it was 50 years ago!). Maybe I can check with District 6 to see if it was opened. It would be fun to see/read the contents from our 8-year-old selves.

Bryan Whitney January 3, 2021 - 10:48 am


Joanne Allen Eskildsen January 2, 2021 - 9:15 am

This takes me back. I remember the strength that would come from different forms of glitter. It is amazing how this inner strength shines right when we most need it. I’ve been thinking about you all summer. What a perfect read for the start of a new year – 2021. Thank You, Emily, Dr. K and Isabelle aka Madeleine. Sincerely, Joanne Eskildsen

Emily Kemme January 2, 2021 - 5:44 pm

Thank you, Joanne, for the good thoughts you sent all summer. They worked. Another bit of glitter, perhaps?

Karen Wood January 2, 2021 - 7:45 am

Loved this, Emily! We must focus on the reason this happened in order to understand how to grow. I am constantly in awe of your writing skills and your daughters strength and courage. One great thing that has come from this year…I feel we know a wonderful family much better than before!

Emily Kemme January 2, 2021 - 2:31 pm

I’m so grateful for your friendship. You have been a huge influence in her healing process. 💗

Susan January 2, 2021 - 7:44 am

Just read your most recent feeding the famished. It is by far the best writing ever. I love the combination of the sparkling glitter and the downness you have experienced this year. It is so beautifully written I can hardly find words to express it. Heartfelt!

KR January 2, 2021 - 7:43 am

Very very good writing, Emily. Important thoughts and well distilled. What a wonderful gift, with coffee and Maisy, to start Saturday morning.

Scott Lorenz January 2, 2021 - 7:40 am

All about the light!
All answers in nature.❤️

Judi Pasternak Houlihan January 2, 2021 - 7:39 am

Beautiful. I’ve found that I too, have to remind myself of the long list that Jim and I have to be grateful for. We are very fortunate to have one another, enough food (too much 🙄) warm home etc. it definitely helps to find the glitter. Thanks Emily.

Jill Andre January 2, 2021 - 7:38 am

I enjoyed the interweaving of your reality of your daughter in this article. If there would only be one reason to remember 2020 it would be that she returned to a place where she feels safer with people that love her. Happy New Year Emily.

Emily Kemme January 2, 2021 - 7:41 am

Yes, that’s the silver lining of being in the eye of a tornado. There’s a sense of panic, yes, but there is also calm to focus on what needs the most attention. Happy New Year to you, too.

Joe Schumacher January 2, 2021 - 7:38 am

A very touching perspective. It will give our children’s children much to ponder and be thankful for.

Twyla Surritte January 2, 2021 - 7:38 am

So powerful and a reminder that this year was truly full of Glitter❤️.

Susan St. Pierre January 1, 2021 - 9:22 pm

Thank you so much for sharing.

Ivy Martinez January 1, 2021 - 8:29 pm

This touched my heart in so many ways. I’m glad I read it now and didn’t wait for 2070!

Lynne January 1, 2021 - 7:54 pm

I’m right here with you, Emily.

Emily Kemme January 2, 2021 - 7:42 am

I have felt the strength of your support over the years and am so thankful for it. It’s good to know you’re here — and I hope you are doing okay, too.

Brenda Craft January 1, 2021 - 5:11 pm

Very well put. Thank you.

Judi Pasternak Houlihan January 1, 2021 - 5:11 pm


Kelly Erickson Nispel January 1, 2021 - 5:08 pm

Thank you for sharing! Beautifully done!

Laurinda McDonnell January 1, 2021 - 5:08 pm

What an awesome read. I walked your walk along side you and can’t be happier that our current situations are good! Your writing is beautiful!

Emily Kemme January 1, 2021 - 5:12 pm

Thank you for walking alongside me over the past 16 months as we navigated these waters. I cherish your love and support and glad we’re on the healing path together.

Laurinda McDonnell January 1, 2021 - 5:36 pm

I too cherish our 49 year friendship. Through it all we have always been able to count on each other. Love you the mostest!

Emily Kemme January 1, 2021 - 5:37 pm

Love you, too! Except for 39 years. . . 😂🥰

Laurinda McDonnell January 3, 2021 - 10:50 am

phew. Glad I was wrong!😉🤣

Carol McConnell January 1, 2021 - 5:07 pm

Loved reading this Emily.

Michelle January 1, 2021 - 2:19 pm

Gave me chills…❤️❤️❤️


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