Writing year-end essays is always a difficult affair. How do you distill three hundred and sixty five days of your life in under a thousand words? How do you adequately express three hundred and sixty five days’ worth of stories in a single, succinct narrative? Other writers may find it easy and take the challenge in stride, but I am not that writer. And writing this one is harder, for obvious reasons. I don’t think there is a sufficient way to write about the drama of 2020, a year which has repeatedly resisted comprehension. But if there was one thing that this year has taught us, it is that you keep trying anyway. And so, with this piece, will I.
Loss has been this year’s defining theme; it is the unifying experience we have collectively endured. We all sustained losses this year, some more than others. We lost jobs and homes and so many lives. We lost swathes of forests in fires. We lost trust in institutions which swore to protect us. We lost the routines which gave our lives structure and purpose. We lost the sense of time’s passing. We lost our ability to be with others at a time when human connection mattered more than ever. We lost the basic human privileges we have so taken for granted. We lost so much, and kept on losing.
It would be foolish to think that just because the vaccines have started to be administered that everything would slowly go back to normal, and come mid-2021 all would be back to business. “Back to normal” is a scary thought, given that a lot of the things that have been normalized in society have been exposed as irreverent, ineffective, and downright cruel. If after everything we have struggled through and for this year we emerge back into the status quo, then that would be our failure as a society. Things have to change on every level—social, political, economic—but most importantly personal. People are so quick now to disregard the idea that we ourselves should first be the change if we want the world transformed into a better place, deeming it “new age-y” or “self-help-y” or simply saccharine. What’s so wrong about wanting to create for ourselves and everyone else a kinder, more compassionate world? It is delusional to think that it takes only a select few to make the world better. If you are just waiting for the right president, the right policy makers, the right people of power to effect real change without looking inward yourself, then the world is in big trouble indeed. That’s the reason why it is crucial that we not take for granted everything we have lost this year. It is necessary that we honor our losses, not just acknowledge it and then move on but to sit down with them, engage them in conversations, because we are doing ourselves a disservice if we move blindly on to the next year unaware of the growth we could have gained, at which point we will just be doomed to repeat the same mistakes, the same drama.
I’ve had my share of losses this year. Some of them were painful, some were annoying, some were just baffling, but all of them, I now see with a great deal of clarity, I absolutely needed.
I lost, for example, a lot of “friends.” Four, in fact. “Friends” I considered confidantes and held in high esteem, “friends” who ostensibly had my back. I use “friends” in quotation marks because I am coming to understand that perhaps they understand the word differently than I do. It strikes me strange now how there had always been signs that they did not have my best interests, but perhaps because I believe in second, third chances, believed that people can be good (evidence to the contrary notwithstanding), I chose to ignore these signs. Now I know that when someone shows you who they are the first time, believe them. Don’t get me wrong, I do not wish any of them ill. It is not my nature to hold grudges; they have my forgiveness whether or not they ask for it. Yet I would not go out of my way to come up to any of them should we happen to meet in public. There is a popular quote that is often attributed to a popular artist which goes something like (I’m paraphrasing), just because we are no longer friends does not mean you gained me as an enemy. I still want you to eat, just not at my table. I learned a great deal of self worth ending these dysfunctional friendships, and in the process earned back my self-respect.
I lost, for example, my sense of self, brought about by countless job rejections, each door slamming at my face more painful than the one before it. One of these rejections dealt a particularly heavy blow in how I perceived myself. After a very long string of rejections, I managed to make the final stage in the hiring process of a company for whom I wanted so badly to work. It was now just me and one other. Not only would the job allow me to do what I believe I was placed on this earth for, which is to write, but it seemed as though the role was tailored for me. I had all the right qualifications for the job, the right skill set, the right disposition. I even had years of experience in the field necessary to do the job and do it well. On top of that, my interviews went so well each time. To borrow a phrase in the common parlance: I had all the receipts. I was the best person for it, so naturally I thought I got the job in the bag.. After all the hard work and all the heartbreak, I thought, I am reaching the proverbial light at the end of my proverbial tunnel. But the universe, as it turned out, had different plans and I did not get the job. I could feel my heart breaking as I wrote back a gracious e-mail to the company thanking them for the opportunity, a message whose every word I meant but nevertheless pained me. This threw me into a pit of despair and despondency and self-pity, and with my self-image shattered, I blundered about my days questioning “what is the point?” Thankfully, I got over that hurdle sooner rather than later, because I learned some time ago not to ascribe my worth into my successes or my failures or the balance in my bank account. But you see, I still needed to feel that pain so that I could tear down this illusion that had begun to cloud my vision, to abandon altogether that false sense of self before it metastasized into something more insidious.
Listen, I am not here to tell you that every loss serves a moral lesson, that there is some ultimate good which comes from it; I am not, and there are people out there more qualified at it than I will ever be. I am not here to tell you that every loss make sense; a lot of what we lost this year resist decoding. I am not here to tell you that losing something sucks; you already know that. What I am saying is that loss can be a great thing if you allowed it to be. You can either let it transform you or keep you stuck in that place of victimhood, which has become terrifyingly en vogue for my and the generation that came after it. Loss strips you off of the inessential. It reveals to you what is meaningful and what is just fluff.
There really is not point in holding onto those which no longer serve you, and that, I suppose, is what I meant to tell you all along. Toxic relationships. Unhealthy mental patterns. Destructive behaviors. Clothes you no longer wear. The failed focaccia bread recipe you tried so many times but can never get right. Let them all go.
You will be surprised how funny how the world works sometimes: you are always losing something, not getting something, are denied something, but the universe always provides you in return with some things, other things, different things, but always of equal value.
Some days ago I visited the website of the company by whom I was rejected, I guess in the same spirit as when one checks up on lovers past on social media—not out of some lingering resentment but out of sheer curiosity—and discovered to my surprise that its copy is severely subordinate, subpar, copy that would have benefited from extensive revision and should never have gone to press. I saw typos, formatting errors, subject-verb disagreements. I found sentences and phrases that I am sure are not even proper English. I never would have made these rookie mistakes, I thought. But also: not my problem. And in that moment, the specter of not feeling good enough, talented enough, and, in the simplest terms being enough, was vanquished forever.
Leave in the dust what is meant to stay there. Breathe. Let go.
I wish all of you a safe entry into the new year.