How do you even begin to write about a year that was unlike any other? A year that challenged notions of time and tore through the veneer of constructed reality; a year that confronted us with our place in the world. How do you fully encapsulate in words all the fear, the panic, the crippling anxiety, the mistrust, the personal awakenings and the heartaches? How do you collect fragments of shattered dreams and dashed plans, and give meaning to them again? In fact, how do you even start to examine a year that, in many ways, wasn’t really there even.
Tracing the year back to its roots is a place as good as any, I guess. My own isolation began exactly a year ago, a full week before everyone else was forced to withdraw into themselves. It’s almost surreal to think that this week last year we were optimistic that flattening the curve was achievable in a short amount of time. I can’t believe it’s been a whole year since I imagined us to be going down a rabbit hole. Have we emerged from it? Or are we still trudging along? I do, at times, feel that we’re stuck in a loop. When we hunkered down last year, Pakistan was lodged in a fierce debate over Aurat March in Pakistan. A year later, we’re still there. Did we even learn anything?
I find myself in an odd stasis though. I didn’t buy a 2021 planner; it seemed that I’d be inviting the ire of the Fates by doing so. Funnily enough, this year has reached the date when my 2020 planner stopped being useful. There are pages upon empty pages, waiting to be filled in, with only a handful of appointments sprinkled here and there-most of them Zoom calls. I pick it up and continue to scribble in it, it seems frivolous to throw it away. But somehow, it seems as if I’m reliving the year that wasn’t, injecting life into it posthumously. Do I think that filling in the pages of my 2020 planner will somehow create memories that ought to be there? Possibly.
It would be unfair, though, to completely disregard last year. Perhaps where we can begin when we talk about an impossible year is the new vocabulary we imbibed. ‘Unprecedented’, ‘flatten the curve’, ‘the new normal’, ‘work from home’, ‘Zoom calls’, ‘distance learning’ and many more immediately became commonplace. Or we can recap it in the number of Zoom calls we had to attend, the banana breads we baked, the dalgona coffees we made, the flowers we planted, the books we bought and thought we’d read, the memes we laughed at, the books we actually read, the calls we made or the podcasts we queued up (and didn’t listen to).
Maybe it would be more accurate to record the year in the numbers of tears we shed, the hair we pulled out, the hugs we missed, the masks we bought, the bottles of sanitiser we drained, the friendships we let fade away or, sadly, the people we lost.
There are many ways to record the past, but in a break from my personal tradition of nihilism, I choose ‘hope’ as the one thing that defined this lost year. Hope sprung up unexpectedly in unlikely placesâ€”like the flowers in my garden that I thought would never bloom again. These pockets of hope are the ones that I keep going back to. Those blissful moments that pierced through the darkness, like sunbeams through drawn curtains. The ambient sunbeams that even illuminate the motes of dust floating, suspended mid-air, like time itself.
Whether it was a cool breeze on a summer day, while I was sprawled on the grass in my garden, or videos of the kindness of strangersâ€”hope was there. Or in the night sky full of stars that I hadn’t viewed in ages. It was also in the clean air we finally got to breathe in Lahore, signalling to us that the change we desire is within our reach.
Hope was in the gut-wrenching concert of Andrea Bocelli in front of the Duomo di Milano, as all of Italy wept and we wept with them. Hope was in the brave protestors across the world who declared ‘Enough is enough!’ and took to the streets to reclaim the dignity that was denied to them.
Hope was in the live sessions on Instagram that were determined to keep the arts alive; hope was in the laughter of babies born in the oddest year of them all; hope was in video calls with friends across time zones; hope was in the small gestures of love witnessed over Zoom weddings, when the mere visual of human touch was beauty itself. Hope was in every drop of watercolour that spilt from my paintbrush; it was in every travel plan made and every new item added to the bucket list. It was also in the rekindling of old friendships and the forging of new ones and ironically.
Hope is the vaccine that promises that we can go back to the ‘before times’. But will we really? Is it even possible to go back to how things used to be? Unlikely. The scars from this year will remain with us for quite some time, prompting us to do better. They’ll urge us to change the way we interact with the world, with nature, with each other. They’ll continue to haunt us and insist that we learn from our mistakes. Over time they’ll fade, as all scars do, leaving this time but a bump on our journey. And that’s when our true reckoning of this year will begin.
Photo Courtesy: Author