It was a year alright. An intense, crazy, unprecedented rollercoaster of a year. Thousands of words have been written about 2020 and many more will be written for years to come, including strange new ones—social distancing, lockdown, pandemic. When I look back, certain images come to mind. I remember March particularly, just before the impending lockdown—more and more people in masks, longer and longer queues in the supermarket, a sense of foreboding/anticipation that reminded me of another country a decade ago, a revolution of sorts, and the same collective inkling that life would never be quite the same again.
The lockdown, when it happened, unleashed a tsunami of emotions—a personal reckoning—as it must have for so many of us. Ironic because my life, in its essence , changed very little. (Perhaps when a global pandemic and lockdown don’t actually impact your life very much, it’s a sign there are things that need to be addressed : ) My social life, for reasons too complicated to explain, was non-existent anyway. But in the absence of choice, life was now condensed to its bare essentials—eat, sleep, and repeat, with a walk in between if you were lucky.
Something about this reckoning prompted great waves of grief, of mourning what could have been, or should have been, or would have been. For the first time in my life, I had trouble sleeping—and the wee small hours of the morning are a terrible time to be awake. But gradually life settled into its new rhythm, as it always does, and that new normal highlighted my privilege, even as it laid bare all the terrible inequalities of our world. Never let it be said that the pandemic was a great equaliser: There were those for whom it offered a chance for a quiet reset, and those whose lives were brutally torn apart, and I fell squarely in the former category.
For the first time in my life, I was grateful for suburbia and grateful that we had moved back home to be with my mother so she would not be alone, now of all times. I learnt a new appreciation for quiet deserted streets, for stillness, for simple routines and old-fashioned pastimes, like jigsaw puzzles with a child. I discovered a love for walks in sunny fields and tree-laden woods. In spring and summer, we took Noah to ones we discovered near us; him on his little red bike, me usually striding ahead, Sherif taking up the rear; stumbling as I tried to name the trees and the flowers and convey the beauty of nature to my son.
(On one gorgeous late spring afternoon, we stumbled upon fields of rapeseed and I remember feeling a glimmer of what journeyers of old must have felt when they discovered new land. Fields of gold—bright yellow, vibrant, the stuff of life itself. And just beyond this, a stark simple cedar tree, bisecting the field like a painting, which became known as Mama’s tree by Noah. Once we passed two men on our way there, skirting past them to allow them the required social distance, except for Noah who strode up to them with all the exuberant confidence of a 3-year-old. “This is my Mama,” he said. ‘We’re going to see Mama’s tree.” )
I discovered a new love for my husband, or perhaps I simply rediscovered the love I’d had for him, which had become frayed after a few intense years of traversing continents and child-rearing and lives being lived largely apart, of the simmering resentments of raising a child together but feeling like the burden is largely yours. Suddenly, thrust together again, we learned to be together again and that we still—largely—liked each other; the prelude to rediscovering love, tempered by life and babies and house moves and bills, but love, nonetheless.
So, I cannot claim, all in all, that 2020 was a terrible year for me. There have been worse, more traumatic, more intense, even more dramatic years—the year I lost my sister, or the year I lost my father, when I discovered I was pregnant unexpectedly, the year of revolutions I lived through in an ancient land. I came through this year largely unscathed, still with things to celebrate. Even as we Brexited, the world could finally say goodbye to Trump. Even as the headlines remained grim, I could finally have a conversation with my child, after months of worrying about his ‘late’ development.
I know the world has changed—is changing—and if you are one of those who has suffered this year, who has experienced loss—of a loved one or love itself, of a job, a home, a dream, a friend—my heart goes out to you. Know that you are not alone and that perhaps these changes will contribute to a better world, now that we have been unable to hide from the often-grim reality of our present one. In truth I have learned—as the saying goes—that the more things change, the more they remain the same. But still, I hope—for a better world, a slimmer waist, more joy, more happiness, more equality, less suffering. I hope, I hope, I hope.
There are years that ask questions and years that answer, said Zora Neale Hurston. I hope 2021 is a year that provides answers and some balm for our weary souls, that is less challenging, less demanding, and that allows us all to reset – better, stronger, wiser.
Happy new year to you all – with love