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Looking back on 2020, the year we second-guessed everything

By Alma Fabiani

Dec 30, 2020

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Where do I even start with 2020? I’m certain that decades from now, scholars will qualify 2020 as a pivotal time in history, which it was in a way. But until then, when the people who lived through it look back not only on the year in itself but also on the timelines of their personal lives, many will simply be looking at an empty calendar.

When we all started using the catchphrases ‘during these unprecedented times’, ‘the new normal’ and ‘strange times’ to make our emails slightly more considerate of the situation at the beginning of the first wave of lockdowns, little did we know that strange would become the best term to describe 2020.

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For all its eventfulness, 2020 has for many been a lost year (in every sense of the word). While many of us lost loved ones, we all had to put our lives on hold. Trips were cancelled, celebrations had to be put on hold, and months that dragged on at the time went by in a flash in retrospective.

Sure, humanity had seen worse times—but while the features of 2020 have all arisen in the past, they never arose all at once. The 1918 influenza pandemic, which lasted until April 1920, was far more intense but disturbances to daily life usually lasted two to three months at most.

Speaking to The Atlantic, Rebecca Edwards, one of the co-authors of America’s History, explained that wartime often inspired “a yearning for the return of ‘normal life’ during a period of suffering and sacrifice,” and noted that deployment caused many couples to delay living together and having children. Similar patterns have resulted from long-lasting economic downturns.

But even as the textbook’s authors suggested possible parallels in the article, they also pushed back on the premise that each component of 2020’s lostness is even a break from the historical norm. The year’s particular combination of “delayed timelines, diminishment of celebrations, and evacuation of public life characteristic of this pandemic is relatively unique.”

Halting our lives didn’t only mean we had to spend birthdays and meetings on Zoom calls—it also forced us to press pause on long-term life goals. And as a result, having all this extra ‘free time’ made us second guess everything. Should we be learning a new skill? Or should we not—should we put self-care and rest above all else?

Should we bother planning ahead or should we focus on the present? For most of us, myself included, making plans (be that life plans or figuring out what to do on the weekend) is a means of trying to exert some control over the inherently unknowable future. 2020 made all these plans vanish, leaving us destabilised and uncertain about everything.

As motionless as some aspects of our lives became, others accelerated like never before. Couples moved in together sooner than expected, many lost their jobs while others started new ones, and pregnancy announcements flooded our social media feeds.

2020 was interminable to live through, but swift in retrospect. As the years pass, maybe it will seem even more empty than it actually was, but look on the bright side; this year will only make the future more vivid. Where 2020 was in black and white, 2021 will show fluorescent colours that will stay ingrained in our memories for a long time.

Whether I’m just being naive or not is yet to be revealed, but whatever 2021 brings along, we need to remember this year for the challenges it made us face. And although these challenges affected everyone, they didn’t affect everyone equally. What we do in 2021, together, will shape what happens next.

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Looking back on 2020, the year we second-guessed everything


By Alma Fabiani

Dec 30, 2020

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10 lessons we should take from 2020 into 2021

By Tahmina Begum

Dec 16, 2020

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This has been quite the year. A year of unlearning and learning then relearning again. Of picking and unpicking the parts of our lives we want to keep and recognising what we actually don’t need.

A reckoning of breakdowns also shifted into breakthroughs (is it any surprise that during the lockdown, numbers seeking talking therapy went through the roof?) and we all at one point realised we needed a balance of good as well as bad news.

Much of 2020 was about letting go: of the roles we always play, of control, and of everything we’ve become accustomed to. 2020 became the year of understanding, instead of retelling the same narratives over and over again. And although life felt on pause, it still continued—we still lived and learned a lot. Here are the 10 things I’m taking from 2020 into 2021.

1. Grief is everywhere

In British and Western cultures, we don’t know how to deal with grief. We don’t talk about it and we don’t really ask each other how they’re dealing with it, without washing over the pain. We don’t give time for an outpour of grief, even during a pandemic.

Those who have lost loved ones have been overlooked every day. That grief is not just grief when it’s pink and fresh and new, it still remains grief once its various shades of grey bring an inevitable ‘new normal’.

I learned that we still don’t know to talk about death even in our mortal lives spent trying to be the most recognised, the most famous, the most living person in the room, with the hopes that we’ll be remembered forever. That grief that we felt in 2020 also includes living losses, of where we thought we should be going, and that space needs to be held and grieved over too.

2. “Joy is not made to be a crumb”

As Mary Oliver writes in Swan. We should rush to the good and be patient with the in-between as well as the bad. Joy is not to be reduced, it is not made to be a crumb! Pain is a part of life, as is illness, death, love, friendship, laughter, ease, change, joy and seasons, and we can’t have one without the other.

3. Getting through it

Getting through it, for the sake of getting through it, is enough. But no one wants to go their whole lives simply surviving. We have to live too.

4. Beauty is a morale booster

Our relationship with beauty may have changed—perhaps, we’ve realised that the face we put on is tethered to make others feel comfortable, instead of doing it solely for ourselves, but beauty itself is ever powerful when everything else is going to shit.

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When British soldiers liberated the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945, a large consignment of lipsticks eventually made its way to the camps. There’s a reason why huge numbers painted their lips happily, imagining one day of being free: beauty is uplifting, it’s a morale booster.

It can give a moment of hope, while on other days, it can be a part of a routine that gets you up in the morning. Beauty brings you into the present and during 2020, pushed us to look hard at ourselves and who we really enjoy being when it’s solely for ourselves. It should never be underestimated.

5. Rest is a fundamental right, not a treat

So when we’re procrastinating, thinking about all the things we ‘should’ be doing, or could be doing, it’s not real rest. Rest is switching off in order to switch on and resync. It’s a love letter to yourself and a prerequisite. In order to love others and the Earth, you have to adore yourself first, and that begins with old-fashioned rest.

6. Eating your mum’s food solves everything

Learning passed down recipes continues to soothe the soul as well as large cups of ginger tea. Try it if you haven’t already.

7. Humans need each other more than we like to admit

We rush to what we perceive as safety, building homes from the same things. Whether that’s clapping at the same time on a Thursday night, baking the same kind of bread or watching the same show. Simply, we need each other.

8. Ignorance is not bliss

Even during a pandemic, black, brown and ethnic minorities suffer disproportionately due to their race, alongside the working class, poor, elderly and disabled. We have a bigger class, race and abilities gap that we like to ignore every day. We can’t keep continuing like this and into 2021, just because we have been so far.

9. All Black Lives Matter

Anti-racist reading doesn’t equate to systemic change and a black man should never have to die in order for change to happen. No life will really matter until all Black Lives Matter. We should always give our roses to the people we love while we can and while they’re still here.

10. Love is key, not likes

Technology, social media and crazes are the extra bits to life whereas the core should always be the people we love. As 2020 showed, the little things we have with one another are rarely just the little things.

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10 lessons we should take from 2020 into 2021


By Tahmina Begum

Dec 16, 2020

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