A Pandemic Year in Reflection

Featured Illustration: Kelly Malka

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A year into the pandemic — words we never thought we would say, hear, or live through. It’s almost comical to think about how quickly we originally thought quarantine would be over. The last year has been immensely difficult for us all, in whatever capacity that may be. We have all grieved in some form or another, and have faced our own struggles. 

While this last year has been life-changing, I’ve learned to enjoy the little moments in life that make me pause, smile, and think. Before this last year, I was constantly on the go. I succumbed to the horrid ‘grind’ culture that takes over — making us feel guilty for pausing. Guilt-tripping us for enjoying the present moment. Inducing anxiety if we aren’t exhausted, carrying heavy bags under our eyes while we learn to side-hustle or beat our personal best while exercising, or learning skills and reading the latest book on ‘self-improvement’. Making us feel like ‘losers’ for spending more time with family, or living with them post-college, instead of the brand-new studio apartment in the city, with the view, next to that new bar or restaurant. While I felt guilty for this at first, it has been the biggest blessing being forced to slow down — especially this last year. 

Although these things all can help us become the ‘best version’ of ourselves, it made me feel insufficient as this narrative does to (almost) everyone I know. It made many of us feel as if we were fighting against ‘some’ clock. As if time was ticking, leaving us empty and confused if that clock were even real — or if it even matters. Or, if we were doing it to succumb to the pressures of society, rather than for ourselves.

Within the last 365 days, I feel a shift in myself and those around me. I find myself a little softer, more gentle with myself and the world around me. I’m not sure if it’s due to getting older, some more self-confidence and not giving a sh*t what people think, or if it’s because of the state of our world. I’ve noticed myself and my friends leaning on each other a little more for support — and trying to look out for each other in whatever way we can. I’ve become a little more simplistic in my wants, and learning to be more insistent on my needs. Sure, I want luxurious things, but what I really need is to be supported, respected, loved, cared for — and if I’m not finding it in one place, I’ll find these necessities elsewhere.

Along with many others, I’ve learned to actually appreciate the small moments throughout the days that make quarantine a little less mundane, and a little more light, filled with life. 

I noticed the small gestures my parents do for each other throughout the day: starting every morning, my dad sets out two of my mom’s favorite mugs — one for her hot lemon water, and one for her coffee, only after she’s finished her lemon water. The way my mom cuts fruit (as every immigrant mother does) and ensures that we’re full without ever uttering a complaint. How she cajoles my dad with a slight smirk into making her chai at the end of her workdays, by telling him his chai ‘tastes better’ (honestly, it really does) as she kicks her feet up and wraps herself in a blanket to watch Ertugrul on Netflix. The way they balance each other’s temperaments, personalities, and quirks. How my dad is eccentric but logical, and how my mom is level-headed, but more free-spirited. The way I’ve adopted these temperaments, too. If I wasn’t at home to watch and learn from them, I’m not sure I would notice the little things they do to keep it going — and to keep me going. 

The way I see myself in the photos of my mom and grandmother when I have the time to flip through old family photo albums on a Sunday morning, thinking of how they must’ve interpreted their world at my age. How I noticed I become silent when someone says something that upsets me, just like my mom. The way change in seasons brings a reason to smile, feel hopeful, and refreshed — as if something will change, for the better. Prior to this year, I didn’t think life continued to get better with time, or that I would love life — and appreciate life — as time went on. Now, I can confidently say it does, that it will get better, and that we will continue to become the people we always wanted to be — regardless of the situations or times we find ourselves in. 

I’ve become more myself — the way I’ve always wanted to be — because I’ve had the privilege of having time to do so. And for that, I’m thankful. We’ve seen how quickly things can change, and from this last year, I hope we take away a few things, including learning to become more empathetic, understanding, and gentle, but also critical of ourselves and the world around us. 

I hope we all work towards building a future that embraces individuality, but also supporting one another while working against individuality that leads to selfishness, and disregard for others. I hope we allow others to explore themselves, in whatever way that may be, while we also learn to explore who we are. I hope we work towards creating a world where those who look and speak differently than us don’t have to fear not coming home when they leave for work. I hope we build spaces for differently-abled individuals to enjoy life, just as those of us who have been blessed with able bodies do without thinking. I hope we find common ground amongst all our differences while learning and appreciating the various cultures that make up our world. I hope we move forward from where we are today.