It’s been a dark year and us humans need someone to blame. It’s our most primitive coping strategy. Incriminating and maligning 2020 has been an obvious and convenient option, and we have done so mightily. I’ve yet to come across someone who doesn’t want this year to make a speedy exit from life’s stage, in the hope that the new year will lend us all a fresh, untainted canvas. Bow out 2020; you have done enough damage. I won’t say much about the physical distress, emotional trauma and overall frustration caused by this year’s global pandemic as words seem inadequate, repetitive, and tokenistic. We have seen far too many dear ones suffer and life as we knew it has changed unrecognizably. Perhaps forever – but certainly for the foreseeable future. My 9-year-old son recently expressed his anxiety over the unfolding of this past year and, as part of a longer conversation, asked me: “Mummy did anything good come from 2020?”. While his question was quite possibly rhetorical, I wanted to do justice in my response – and the question certainly made me feel reflective. And what is life without the indomitable will to carry on; the quest to find a silver lining; the scramble for hope?
2020 has taken far too much away, but like every cloud, is not bereft of a silver lining; the year has come with significant, though costly lessons. Some of those lessons are gifts I know I am grateful for.
Time to reassess what matters: truth be told I am a little embarrassed at how seriously I have taken far too many things in life. How I have deemed the most inconsequential things worthy of stress; how I have sought the approval of all; how I have attempted to fit everything and everyone in at the expense of my own wellbeing. This year has offered immense clarity about what really matters: family, good friends and those who bring positive energy into my life. This doesn’t necessarily mean I only wish to associate with those who are always deliriously happy (both unrealistic and tedious!) – but people with positive vibrations are worth seeking out and cherishing when found. 2020 has made boundaries (literally) necessary. Some of these are worth sustaining well after the pandemic.
An awareness of my many distractions: in the absence of travels, holidays, days out, hours spent at cinemas, cafes and restaurants, shopping and meeting loved ones – all of which I dearly miss – I have had to confront some uncomfortable truths that have been plaguing me long enough. I know it’s time to work on myself and emerge stronger, happier, and more resilient. The comfort of the status quo sometimes needs to change for growth to happen.
2020 has taken far too much away, but like every cloud, is not bereft of a silver lining; the year has come with significant, though costly lessons. Some of those lessons are gifts I know I am grateful for
Mindfulness: I confess to having misunderstood meditation and mindfulness all my life. It took some persuasion from my remarkably perceptive younger brother that this practice could be beneficial for me in navigating a challenging year. The greatest gift of mindfulness is the ability to become more ‘presenceful’. At the risk of sounding all too reductive, Eastern philosophy has long attributed much of human suffering to our relationship with time – bemoaning the past or worrying about the future. The practice of mindfulness teaches us how to be fully ‘present in the present’, finding moments in the day where we don’t let thoughts of the past and future agitate us.
Kindness, compassion, empathy: I don’t think I have ever witnessed such warmth, generosity, and love from others as I have in 2020. Be it a neighbour dropping off groceries or medicines, family members gathering on zoom for birthday celebrations, cooking meals for a poorly friend or making time to chat over the fence – human kindness has flown marvellously and plentifully in 2020. Watching my fellow teachers doing all in their power to keep providing our young people normalcy, and even joy, in otherwise confusing times has been both reassuring and a privilege. Seeing doctors, nurses and other medical staff risk their own wellbeing to ensure that of others fills the heart with a warm glow of gratitude.
Acceptance: despite our jaw dropping evolution and progress in all aspects of life, we have learnt this year that sometimes things are just downright awful. And that it is okay to acknowledge and accept moments of despair without kicking our hands and feet about in resistance, trying to fix everything at once. It’s been trying – in many cases harrowing. But we “beat on, boats against the current” because while we accept it has been difficult, we can never accept that it won’t get better.
It will get better. It always does.
The author received a PhD in English Literature from the University of Warwick and is an Associate Senior Leader at The Ridgeway Education Trust in Oxfordshire, England