Finding joy in 2020

A side effect of 2020 that I did not anticipate has been being unable to write like I used to. In navigating life during a pandemic, I’ve found myself frozen when it comes to something that used to be intuitive and nourishing – the ability to journal and express myself easily. This past week, inspired by some gorgeous Byzantine ruins and fellow-journalling-friends, I sat down to reflect on the year that’s drawing to a close. 

Now, truth be told, any journaling I do around New Year’s Eve typically tends to be focused on gratitude, on acknowledging the positives of the year; which honestly, in 2020, feels like an oxymoron. Because this year – this surreal, seemingly dystopian, almost maniacal aberration of a year that sent the whole world into a tailspin – has been anything but joyful. For me, this has been the year where everything that would typically fuel the life I lead got turned on its head. This has been the year of not being able to see family, friends, people I love; of staying in my new home country and, quite literally, not being able to go anywhere else; of hugging pillows and sorely missing real human contact and intimacy; of simultaneously being grateful to have a job and also have that job morph into something I had no idea how to do; of not knowing what could happen the next day, week or month, and not really being able to make any concrete plans; of feeling alone and anxious and overwhelmed almost all the time. Anything that would historically nourish me did not exist in 2020.

And even so, as I sat down and put pen to paper this week, I realised that there has been plenty this year that I could be grateful for. Joy did have a place in my life; it just looked different than it did in years past. Here are some things that made my heart smile in 2020:

  • A text message from someone checking in on me.
  • Big chunky sweatshirts and comfy pyjamas.
  • Taking care of my plants.
  • Trying new recipes and enjoying doing that, despite the moderate success rate. 
  • Hanging up fairy lights in every room of my home.
  • Long walks in open spaces filled with blue skies and greenery all around.
  • Meme/GIF wars with friends who are as dorky-cool as me.
  • Series of ‘no-bra’ days (and then weeks) because, well, lockdown. 
  • Working on my sorely lacking millennial skill of taking selfies (how do people do it?!)
  • Rediscovering a song I once loved when listening to a playlist on shuffle.
  • Staring at the flickering flame of a scented candle for calm.
  • Playing cross-continent antakshari with a friend using Whatsapp voice notes.
  • Finding the ‘sunshine spots’ in my apartment – tracing where there’s more light and warmth at different times in the day.
  • Swapping Netflix recommendations with my 70+ year-old father, who discovered the joy of movie streaming services during this pandemic lockdown.
  • Friends from Chennai moving to Tunis and bringing that feeling of home with them.
  • Sitting on the balcony and watching the riot of colours in the sky during sunrises and sunsets.
  • Reading a book and finding a couple of sentences which resonate so much that it seems like the author is talking directly to me.
  • Walking through (and sitting in) ruins from over a thousand years ago – always a solid reminder of how perpetuating life is.
  • Rediscovering childhood hobbies like making friendship bracelets (remember how wildly popular that was in the 90s?!)
  • Finding new ways to hang out with friends in a pandemic world (my current favourite is cooking swaps – you and a friend who is following pandemic safety guidelines meet in each other’s homes and teach each other how to make one of your favourite recipes.)
  • Reconnecting with people that had faded away in the bustle of “normal” life.
  • Letting go of people who … well, needed to be let go of.
  • Bonding with new people in my new home city over the shared experience of living through this year.
  • Having a series of good health days
  • Embracing solitude and those small moments of mildly believing that maybe I am enough, maybe I can do this.

My New Year’s Eve journalling also typically tends to be hopeful – the whole new year, new beginnings, clean slate, put the last 12 months behind you, onwards and upwards deal. This new year probably isn’t going to be that kind of year, at least not for a while. The world is still poised rather precariously and life “as we knew it” might be some ways down the road. 

But if there’s one thing I’m taking with me from 2020, it’s the realisation that it is possible to find joy in the most adverse of circumstances; even in the likes of this year. Joy might appear different, might take on different forms than you’re used to. It might end up being in simple things, in those small moments of life that happen when you aren’t typically used to paying attention. It might ask that you shift your lens a little, eliminate the typical trappings of life; that you hone in, be more present and mindful. And in doing so, you can find those moments that truly matter, which nourish you and make you smile. You can hold them close in your heart and harness their positive energy and keep going. Over the course of this year, I’ve learned that it is possible to do this. And that for me is the biggest joy of 2020. 

Metaphors

My mother says January 1st is a metaphor for the whole year – the way you spend this day sets the tone for the way your year will go. Having spent most of my childhood with this mantra, I’ve grown accustomed to making careful, curated choices for how I spend the first day of each new year; reading books, spending time with people I love, making home-cooked meals, journalling, learning something new – all of these are oft-repeated in the way I spend January 1st every year, because I want the rest of my year to be filled with moments like these.

This year, my January 1st began a little differently. I woke up and switched on my kettle to make a cup of chai. The extension spike guard spritzed, flames burst out and my kettle was completely fried. IMG_20190101_092252188_HDR

This threw me completely. If what happens on January 1st is indeed a metaphor for how the rest of your year will go, what on earth was 2019 going to be like for me? Was this a sign of more disaster and trouble headed my way?

Here’s the thing about metaphors though – they can mean what you want them to mean. So, when I envision what might lie ahead for me in 2019, I choose to think my flaming spike guard and fried kettle are metaphors for

…  the importance of perspective. Yes, I had a kitchen accident first thing in the morning. But, it could have been so much worse. Most days, I put the kettle on to boil and leave the kitchen to do other things. Today,  I was standing right there and could quickly stop it from turning into a bigger disaster.

self-reliance; realising that things may blow up (or, more mildly, go wrong) – even with the best-laid plans – and that I have the capacity to deal with them.

letting go of attachment to possessions. The kettle was gifted to me by someone dear, and it made me sad to see it fried. Even so, I know my connection to this person is deeper and that’s worth holding onto more than an object I own.

… (as my best friend put it,) a year that promises to be full of sizzle and adventure!

Happy new year! I am excited to meet my 2019. May yours be everything you want it to be :)