2020 is almost at its end. Normally, there are 12 months in a year but this one felt like it had 24. If we really think about it, for the whole world this year felt like a scary horror thriller written by Stephen King. I thought books like The Shining(1), It(2) and Pet Sematary(3) were chilling but 2020, by Stephen King, does sound like a book I’d be terrified to read.
Looking back at the beginning of the year, I can only think of how oblivious we were during that month of January. Sure, we already had reports of a certain new Coronavirus appearing in a Chinese town, but who would have thought it would have escalated so quickly! And I’m not talking about Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist(4) kind of escalation, I mean a surreal change of our reality the likes we’ve never seen and how it wounded us as a society.
There I was on that January 4th night having drinks with my closest friends in celebration of my birthday. We were so happy and carefree. Come February things started to look really different.
We were all used to taking the bus, tram, subway, boat or any other type of public transport so relaxed and (in some cases) sleepy. We would listen to our favourite songs, podcasts, watching our series on Netflix from the small screen on our phones. Some would be reading a book, magazine or newspaper. Others would already be talking on the phone with their employers or employees. We’d go to work, to the gym, out for drinks with colleagues if we wished, go home and start over the next day and wish for that sweet dolce far niente the weekend usually brings!
But by the end of March, the world was not the same anymore. As the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 crisis a pandemic, we stopped going to the office. Gyms, cafés, restaurants, cinemas, and all other non-essential places and businesses had to close and all major flights were cancelled.
Obviously this proved to be quite an emotional, psychological and social challenge. As a modern society, we are used to leaving our residences at will, either for work or leisure, while staying inside was a concept mainly reserved for those days when you wanted to rest and “charge your batteries”. Well, at least for the naturally introverted people this was a business as usual kind of life (according to the humorous conversations I had with some of my introverted friends about the situation). Even social distancing was enforced to avoid the spread of the virus and the use of facial masks is recommended, in some places mandatory!
So we started living our lives from home. People started to work from the comfort of their homes and what used to be a routine of commuting to work became a short commute between bedroom, kitchen, living room and bathroom. The only reasons to go out are going grocery shopping (unless you did it online), exercising or walking your pet. Funny how a lot of people realised how much they love the outdoors when being forced to stay quarantined — what with all the restrictions imposed by the authorities regarding being in the streets during a lockdown!
As the Coronavirus stayed as the main topic of conversation and investigation on the news, we had to readapt our way of life. Couples that usually only saw each other at the end of the day, had to deal with one another every hour on a daily basis. Children would stay at home too, to some parents’”dismay”. A system of online classes was placed, using video call software, and parents were to assist their children with homework.
To be sure, this caused major rifts in a lot of families’ social interactions as they are not used to so much constant direct contact. Even the divorce rates went up!
Unfortunately domestic violence too. Some people lost their jobs because their employers could not afford to keep them as revenues went drastically down. Some companies went bankrupt and some chose to seek the Government help by using the lay-off system: to avoid firing their employees, they would use State and Social Security financial aid to pay 66% of the employee’s salaries while their contracts were temporarily suspended until the time came to call them back. Me being an example of an employee put on lay-off, which has been my condition since April.
After this major lockdown ended mid-June, as the number of new cases of COVID-19 showed some decreases, the government lifted some restrictions, only to put them back up should the cases go up again. Which they did, so life went back to being lived in constant vigilance even if not as strict as the one experienced between April and May. And let’s not forget other happenings that haunted our lives such as the stressful/controversial USA presidential elections marked by the controversial behaviour of President Donald Trump, the Black Lives Matter movement, originated by the assassination of George Floyd by a police officer and causing a global chain reaction of revolt and strong activism to fight racism, the ill-fated ammonium nitrate explosion in a Beirut harbour that caused hundreds of casualties and injuries, an earthquake in the Philippines, and even a huge migration of locusts devastated crops in Argentina. Seriously, as if we needed a plague of locusts to add to the never ending list of events that occurred this year!
This is the portrait of 2020. There have been plenty of articles written about this year. From journalists to companies, press releases to blog posts, everyone had a say about this Stephen King of a year. Messages of support and perseverance flooded the web. But what can we as human beings take from 2020 and learn about it? Is there something positive to be taken from months of fear, unrest and inner conflict? Is there any light in this unexpected darkness we’re living?
I believe there is. And I’m not talking about the funny memes that satirised the political and social instability, although a lot of them were hilarious and kept most of us high-spirited. Ok, alcohol had its contribution too. Not only we had crazy shortages of toilet paper in supermarkets (apparently people forgot about this natural element called water and that they can use it to keep their hygiene intact), but alcoholic drink makers had a great year as their sales of wine, vodka, tequila and whatever other types of spirits went up! I’m also not referring to the high consumption of Netflix, HBO, Disney+ and any other streaming service that has kept us entertained for many months.
The unexpected (and trying) free time we have can also be seen as a surprising (albeit strange) blessing. Our society has been dominated by the routine of going to work and we’ve kept so busy that we lost touch of ourselves and others. We forgot how to live in our skins and how to harmonise with friends and family, which caused the familial and social rifts I mentioned above. So much that, on several occasions, I had to mute Whatsapp message groups because I couldn’t handle the negative energies that some of my friends were pouring into the conversation with their complaints about working from home while living with their girlfriends, boyfriends, wives, husbands, children and even their pets. To me, the isolation was already hard enough since I live alone, was on lay-off and couldn’t even go visit my father who also lives alone!
If there is a time when we must not let others’ negative energies and ideas affect us, this is the time. This year has given us that positive side: we have time to stop and think about how we live our lives, how we see ourselves and how we reflect our actions on others. I realised I was too dependent on my daily routine and all prospects of focusing on personal developments and projects had to be cast aside because there just wasn’t enough time. And when the weekend came, all I could think about was sleeping or resting because I was too tired to think about anything else.
Indeed it was scary when my company told me that I was going to be put on lay-off until it was possible to go back to work. In the first week, it made me feel sort of lost. But that’s when I remembered that I can finally use the free time to my advantage. Yes, I allowed myself to catch-up on all my movies and TV series (and saw new ones), read my books, did my workouts, but these were already my usual hobbies. At last, I had the chance to invest in my personal development and acquire new knowledge.
So I did 2 online courses, started learning more about photography edition, wrote down my thoughts and worked on stories, even had the chance to visit Amsterdam (respecting religiously all the safety procedures) and even went on a photography road trip with a friend to the south of Portugal and drove back up north and centre, while driving along the coast. I also helped the same friend with his own company website and webshop. So instead of letting idleness take over, I kept busy. Slowly, my energy and motivation started to rise and the prospect of having tasks to accomplish provided me the positive insights and energies I needed, while at the same time I learned a lot and grew as a person.
By doing all this, I came to comprehend the extension of what the daily routine we lead in our lives can make us forget about. How we can get lost, put aside a part of ourselves, ambitions and desires… All because we have no time, nor the psychological availability. And all it took was the worldwide spread of a virus to force us to stop and re-evaluate ourselves: who, what and how we are and the way it translates in our interpersonal relationships. but where should that lead us from now on, you may ask?
I believe the next step on this unexpected phase of human evolution should be about finding the balance between the internal discoveries we have made these past few months and how we can keep applying them everyday when we get back to work, or find work for that matter. We each are responsible for the paths we lay in front of us and it’s up to us to walk it, keep extending it and don’t let obstacles make us give up or put that extension on hold, for there’s no telling on when we will be able to get back to building it. Sure, we each have our own priorities but we must strive to leave time for us to explore our passions and become more than what we already are. Otherwise, we’ll just be like robots moving automatically throughout our daily lives, losing more and more those things that make us happy and creative. Think of Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times(5), in the scene where he’s tightening screws on boards that pass by him on a conveyor belt. Eventually his shift ends and he may stop but he’s so automated to perform that action that his wrists and arms keep moving as if they were still tightening those screws. And that’s what we must try to become: android versions of ourselves.
2020 is a scary year, yes. It will most certainly be one for the records — i’m sure it will be studied in History classes in the future, not to mention there will be film adaptations, making Roland Emmerich’s 2012(6) look like a tragic comedy of sorts. In fact, I would be surprised if he announces soon plans for a film adaptation of 2020 — to what we all say no because we hardly needed 2012 to begin with.
But we have to keep a positive look on things, haven’t we? Mind you, I wrote this essay from the top of my “lay-off since April 2020” life and I had days where I felt sad, lost, frustrated and scared. Having no work to do and having to stay quarantined inside my apartment got me down quite a bit at times. But I’m reminded of a quote from Catching Fire, the second book of The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins: The sun persists in rising, so I make myself stand.(7) It’s up to us to find that flicker of light in the middle of this darkness of a year and chase after it. I’m trying to, hence me writing all this down. This was a trying year but also a year of learning and I hope you feel the same way too.
One day at a time, that’s the ticket.
(1) KING, Stephen (1977). The Shining. Anchor Books, United States of America
(2)KING, Stephen (2017). It. 1st Edition, Hodder & Stoughton, United Kingdom.
(3)KING, Stephen (2019). Pet Sematary. 1st Edition, Hodder & Stoughton, United Kingdom.
(7)COLLINS, Suzanne (2009). The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Scholastic, United Kingdom. P.4
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(4)TRIER, Lars Von (Director). Antichrist (film). Denmark: Nordisk Film Distribution
(5)CHAPLIN, Charlie (Director). Modern Times (film). United States of America: United Artists
(6) EMMERICH, Roland (Director). 2012 (film). United states of America: Columbia Pictures