2020 was, without doubt, a global shitshow, not the kind that you can’t take your eyes off of but the kind usually left for soap operas and reality shows rather than real life. But then again when the United States has a reality star president and Indian news seems to only have one storyline all year about the untimely demise of a rising Bollywood hero, you have to wonder. Of course, the year was dominated by the only one real superstar – Covid 19. A pandemic like no other literally grabbed us all by the balls and had us on our knees. To know that a virus was the ultimate Goliath has been both humbling and a long time coming.
Of course, we’ve found ways to cope and survive. Masks, gloves, and sanitiser became staples instead of eccentricities of those with OCD. Zoom became the ultimate boardroom, office space and hangout zone for folks around the world. And what is probably the most amazing thing – our dependence on others to provide entertainment hit a crossroads. Gone were the blockbusters and instead we had Tiger King and The Queen’s Gambit. Music shifted from stadiums to Instagram live shows. Netflix binges were no longer a weekend phenomenon. Fashion houses went from making luxury goods to PPE equipment. Compassion became a trademark and not a publicity stunt at the bequest of a CSR initiative. Businesses grappled with harsh realities about being able to stay afloat while individuals became increasingly troubled as their options and savings diminished in front of their eyes.
So now, almost a year later after this all began in China, has the world fundamentally changed? It’s tough to say as we’re just now starting to see the vaccine make its way through the global, in some places, very suspicious population. With new strands of the virus now making its way through the world, it feels like 2021 is a race between the virus and the vaccine. I’m not new to races. I’ve fought a few in my life, the one that mattered the most of course was the one with cancer. It was a similar one – a battle between the spreading of the disease and my treatment. Would they cross at the right time giving me a quality of life with the desired quantity of life I hoped for?
I remember that question being a strange one for others to understand. Other patients and caregivers understood this nearly daily challenge but for others, they just wanted to hear that there was a cure and that things had returned back to “normal”. Of course, now, with some global headlines and a virus that still continues to create havoc across the world, it is clear that “normal” might quite not be reached as quickly as we hoped. But additionally, the term “new normal” doesn’t quite add any value either because things continue to change and evolve so the rules have to keep changing and evolving with the time. In many ways, what any long-term patient will tell you, the “new normal” is actually accepting that there is no such thing as “normal” and once you make peace with this fact, it becomes much easier to live life without any sense of judgment about what things used to be like versus how they are now versus what they should be like in the future.
It’s been truly quite fascinating for me to see how we all cope with the virus and are finding ways to make peace with it. Some refuse to do so and they get their peace from denying even today that Covid-19 is real. They refuse to wear masks, trust science, and think that their rights are being violated because of a public health concern. Of course, some are now the first to get the vaccine (umm, Republican officials in the US) while others have turned the entire pandemic into a referendum on wellness. Being somewhat in the spotlight due to my wellness journey, it’s been quite ridiculous to see how many brands have attempted to align themselves as the saviour of Covid through their products be it food, alternative medicines, clothing and even realty! While marketing will always be an avenue used to keep businesses afloat, there’s been something quite disturbing seeing how the pain and misery of so many has been used to give snake salesmen platforms to sell their bullshit to a scared public.
Compassion is not something you can easily package into a Silicon Valley start-up and then expect for a blockbuster IPO. The truth is, nobody exactly knows what works or doesn’t besides this vaccine that finally is being distributed. The idea that drinking an Ayurvedic formula will cure coronavirus is as ridiculous as saying that Covid only kills the elderly population. The truth is that there are things that can help us achieve better immunity and with improved immunity, our ability to withstand an attack of a virus might be improved. Yes, the elderly is at a higher risk, but then why are young adults still ending up in the hospital and ICU? There’s been a lot of frustration in 2020. It shows in the sharp rise in depression and anxiety, the higher rates of suicide and also it is reflected in our pop culture. Music, for example has seen superstar Taylor Swift morph from pop icon into indie goddess. While the result is a brilliant album in the form of “folklore”, it isn’t the upbeat Swift who demands we look at her. But frustration also brings resentment and a great desire to rebel. I honestly believe that’s partly responsible for the uptick in disco this year. Dua Lipa’s “happy sad” style, a core element to more adult-leaning club music led the charts this year. People wanted to dance and sing even if it was just in their kitchens and their bedrooms, and even if they were by themselves.
Isolation was forced on us to stay safe and if we did get the virus or even in its near proximity, then our isolation became further restricted and we defined this timeframe as our quarantine. For prisoners, this time is supposed to be for making penance. While many of us labeled this era as our jail time, was it really? Physical restrictions were placed, rules about our day-to-day life were also put into place, but did anyone hijack our thoughts? Did the virus affect our ability to live, feel, be happy? It’s an interesting question because many, most would argue it did. But others, like myself might feel differently. I’m someone who travels almost constantly but haven’t left my city now in more than 10 months. I actually don’t plan to travel anywhere anytime soon for the unforeseen future. How could I adjust to such a new reality and not put the blame on Covid?
Well, why would I let a virus dictate my life. It might alter the course and direction, but it can’t change me. It’s still my life and I call the shots. I’ve had friends who literally traveled around the world and back throughout the past 10 months as things opened and closed on and off. They did these things by choice, not by force. I’m also staying back by choice. The one thing many seem to have forgotten about during 2020 is that not all our choices have been made for us. If a country decides to mandate a mask, it’s our choice to follow and wear a mask and it’s our choice if we don’t. But if it’s the law of the land and we don’t follow, it’s the authority’s choice to arrest us or fine us for such non-compliance.
I’m deeply troubled that at a time when so much of the world has come together in a shared experience, the selflessness that many have shown is being infected by this selfish gene of many who wrongly believe that their choices are being lessened when the reality is the consequences of their choices are now having repercussions. We often forget about our contribution to society and how our actions actually do affect others. It’s one of the most valid arguments used to convince suicidal patients literally off the edge. “Do you know how your death will impact others?” It’s a convincing argument because when you realize that you will affect the balance of other people’s lives – you in turn realize you matter.
But should you matter more than the person that lives next door to you or sits nearby to you at a restaurant or at the shop you’re buying your groceries from? Who’s to say? Part of my life’s mission has been to empower individuals to be in the driver’s seat of their own lives. But if someone is driving blindly without care for others on the road, should you just accept that an accident is likely to occur or do you find a way to both share the road in a civil manner? These are challenging questions and ones that I feel we are just beginning to realize and understand in 2020. As much as we’ve seen what’s in fashion turn to compassion, we’ve also seen so much of that compassion also become inaction.
Forget normalcy, there is need for 2021 to ensure that human decency can still thrive. I’m optimistic that most will be able to look back like this after there is some level of safety established with mass vaccinations. We will be able to learn and grow from this moment in time. But it’s not something a celebrity, a politician or an influencer is going to make happen. It is going to be up to each one of us. We need to take what 2020 did to our lives and accept that it happened, we did our best to control what we could, and while we know things have changed, we know things will change again.
Think about this – why is it that cancer patients and the elderly, seemingly the most vulnerable populations have actually been less phased by all the Covid restrictions? Because they’ve already lived through some. They know “normal” is a fake concept sold to believers who wish to always keeps things the same (or like they once were). Remember, letting go is a part of life and letting go also frees you to choose how you wish to see the now and then.
While 2020 was a challenging year, no doubt about it, it also has been a year that gave us the chance to self-reflect and change our ways. If we do, we all succeed. If we just return to what we once had and forget all the sacrifices we all made for this current moment, this won’t end. At the end of the day, 2020 was another year in all of our lives. Celebrate that and let’s hope for 2021 to allow us that continued blessing…no matter what.