A Letter to 2020: Lessons from Quarantine.

Hindsight is 2020. I’ve always been surprised by the resiliency of humans, especially whenever I heard stories of extreme tragedy and loss. I’m also amused that this surprises me, since I’m a first-generation Iraqi-American, and stories of loss were fairly common in my community. But resilient we are. And resilient we will continue to be. And […]

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Hindsight is 2020.

I’ve always been surprised by the resiliency of humans, especially whenever I heard stories of extreme tragedy and loss. I’m also amused that this surprises me, since I’m a first-generation Iraqi-American, and stories of loss were fairly common in my community.

But resilient we are. And resilient we will continue to be. And if 2020 has taught me anything this year, it is that resiliency is an underrated character trait.

Many people described 2020 as the year that all of humanity experienced a quarantine together. Some exclaimed, “We’re all on the same boat”. But I’ve also heard this year described differently, that instead, “We are all in the same storm but on different boats”.

To me, the latter felt more true. This year served as a reflection, a mirror to the economic divide in the world, and most especially the West, where the economic divide has continued to increase in the last several decades.

Even now, there will be those who receive the vaccine first, and others who may not receive it at all. There are many who lost their jobs and closed their businesses for good, and others who profited from their loss.

Since we had to stay indoors and lost our ability to connect with the external world for much of the year, many of us had to deal with all the voids and loneliness within us. There was simply, nowhere to hide and no place to go.

Time also became distorted, and while each day felt like several months, oftentimes, each month felt like a day. Many of us felt that the hands of time stopped in April 2020 and we were shocked by the time the summer ended, with no great holiday or disconnection from work to disrupt the monotony of our schedules. Many of us celebrated our birthdays alone, with no real celebration to mark the beginning of another year of life.

Many parts of the United States and Australia experienced fires, hurricanes, and more and taught us to re-define the meaning of the word “home”.

But in the midst of this storm were the lifeboats and liferafts that each boat was extending to the other. We could not control what was happening to us, as shutdowns and government management and mismanagement rippled across the globe, and many were split apart from family — but we could control our perception of the series of events. The words we used every day became powerful and shaped our reality as we had less control over our external world.

“We cannot control our environment, but we can control how we react to it”. — Victor Frankl

Some called this year a pandemic and quarantine. Others called it a retreat, or time for self-inquiry, a time to organize, create more connection with family, and rest.

The single biggest lesson this year was this: When we are in the midst of our greatest fear and suffering, what do we turn to?

Hope or despair? Life or death? Beauty or destruction? Blame and victimization or responsibility? Netflix binge-watching or self-preservation and wellness? Disconnection or connection?

Or do we move past the polarities and dualities of the human experience and instead lean into holding objective awareness?

While this year exposed the differences in each other, it also exposed our similarities and our deepest desires. Some people left cities that no longer served them, and others found a greater connection with their friends and families. Some found new love and while the divorce rate may have increased, the number of babies conceived and new relationships also emerged just as quickly. Many of us spent more time in nature than ever before and confronted some of our biggest emotional and spiritual blocks to happiness.

This year taught me that we are all interconnected and that when one person is suffering, all of us suffer a little. And when one of us finds joy, it is infectious, it travels as quickly (or even more quickly) as a virus. All of our feelings and emotions are not just ours, they are the collectives.

There is a quote by the Upanishad that I often thought about this year through all the social and economic turmoil:

“Who sees all beings in his own self and his own self in all beings, loses all fear.”

The capitalistic system that is prominent in the West teaches us that we live in a zero-sum game reality. But when I started thinking from the perspective of oneness, I started to become vigilant about the way I was showing up — first, with myself, and then with others. It is a public service to all when we take care of ourselves and ensure a state of presence and conciousness.

We are a microcosm of the whole and not just individual tribal states, cities, or nationalities that we have been conditioned to believe. We influence each other by just being in the world. Sometimes one word or comment could dramatically impact someone’s life, and send ripple waves of new emotions, thoughts, and actions into the universe. If you don’t believe me, I bet all of you remember a time when someone insulted you or praised you and the impact it had on you. Or maybe someone said something so simple and mundane, but it hit your subsconcious like a tidal wave, and moved the chess pieces of your life into a new direction.

2020 felt like a forcing function for all of us. This year gave us no choice but to examine whether our belief systems were working for us, or if they weren’t. We could either continue with our old programs or move into a new consciousness, a new way of being.

Like it or not, the reset button has been pressed on our existing construct, and as we move forward into 2021, we may move out of a pandemic, but the choices we make have greater consequences, as the societal mirror continues to expand on all the things that have been hidden from societal view: race relations, justice within our legal system, social and economic divisions, healthcare access, government influence and mismanagement, the narrow band of people that control the media and shape public opinion and more.

It is my opinion that there is a new collective value system emerging as we move into 2021. Once we have awareness, we cannot “unsee” the lessons that we’ve learned.

Each day we are forced to now choose between our individual self-interests or the collective interest. In other words, we can choose between our individual well-being or the well-being of the greater good.

When the majority chooses the well-being of the collective over their individual good, we will see a new societal construct emerge, one that impacts not just you — but the farmer who toiled in the sun and brought his fruit to your local grocery store, the student who helped you move out of your home, the barista who served you coffee this morning, or the single mother whose young son is sick at home, and can’t get to her job as a nurse today. That nurse’s son might be the person who cares for your aging parent, and his well-being matters.

This is the choice between fear or love. My wish for 2021 is for everyone to rise up together, and think about the small choices we make every day that lead to the big choices that make up the larger narrative of what it is to be human, in an interconnected and interdependent world.


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