The year of the missing joy

Lamia Imam reflects on what she missed out on in 2020, and what she hopes is still to come.

2020 has been a weird year for everyone. By weird I mean financially taxing, mentally draining, lonely, heartbreaking, or maybe even rewarding. Perhaps it was some or all of the above for many people. We have learned to make sacrifices and adjustments. We have learned risk management, and that not everyone’s risk meters are the same. We have navigated personal hardships, societal failures, and great loss globally, and yet we navigated these difficulties alone.

I happened to be in New Zealand when Level 4 lockdown was announced and learned a lot about the science behind “the rules”, which helped me navigate my own self-imposed lockdown in Texas when I returned to my home. While I watched friends take on new fitness challenges, creative endeavours, or professional triumphs, I decided on my own mantra - that I was not going to do anything to better myself. I was not going to learn a new language or skill or read x number of books every week. I was not going to compete on social media to be a better version of myself.

"What I learned this year is that we champion individualism while having little but contempt for most individuals."

I spent my days doing what I had always done - the barest minimum. I tackled my boredom by marinating in that boredom - playing hours of “Plants vs Zombies” on my phone, doom-scrolling US election news, and cooking meals. I read some books but it wasn’t any more than I would read in a normal year. I binged on Netflix, but I have always done that. I refused to turn on my video for work meetings, having been a remote worker for two years prior to the pandemic. I told my manager that video meetings were only for instances where we would otherwise meet in person. She agreed and adopted my approach. That was my professional triumph!

What I learned this year is that we champion individualism while having little but contempt for most individuals. While NZ survived its way out of the pandemic (so far) by the grace and competence of its government, I watched my fellow Americans do everything possible to make lives difficult for frontline workers in healthcare and retail here in the US. While some people made sacrifices to stay in, even by themselves, others sacrificed lives for a drink at a bar. I missed my best friend’s wedding, Eid celebrations with my family, Friendsgiving, and an adventurous first year of marriage with my husband, which are all things I had taken for granted. I always assumed these would always be a part of life, humming away in the background. Those who have been lost this year are never coming back, and there will be permanent missed weddings and celebrations for many families.

I have a friend who is a bubble of 1 and I talk to her often. We sometimes cook together on video while we catch up on gossip and discuss policy solutions to problems we will never get to solve. We gave each other book and movie recommendations that were never followed up on. We argued about incremental versus revolutionary change. We sought solace in each other in times of loneliness. But mostly she helped me forget that I was constantly terrified to the marrow of my bones of getting sick, that I was stressed from lay-offs at work, that I was paralyzed by disdain for my failures and inability to cope despite having a paycheck and a roof over my head when so many people lost everything.

When I saw spontaneous dancing on the streets as it became clear that Trump lost the US Presidential Elections, I was reminded of the joy that has been missing this year. My hope is for joy to make a comeback for everyone in 2021.