- Amy Houghton, Clara Sablitzky and Rachel Watkins
2020 Reflections: Amy, Clara and Rachel
We never expected our early twenties to be like this - the second of our 2020 reflection pieces looks at lockdown traditions, graduation difficulties and the once in a lifetime opportunity to pause, grow and change.
It was the year that we all seemed to have a ‘good feeling’ about. The year that wasn't just a new year. The year that was somehow an opportunity to reinvent ourselves and get our lives together on a scale that only appears once every decade. Then it was the year that confined us to bubbles. The one that crippled communities and brought trauma to thousands upon thousands of individuals. The one in which we fell into fresh clichés, inhaling banana bread like no tomorrow, embracing hobbies as speedily as we abandoned them. Between the calamities, and the clapping, and the collective outrage, I was among those who had the privilege of stillness. As a result of my draw in the biological lottery and the life path that it enabled me to forge, 2020 gave me the fortune of slowing down. At first, I self-indulgently mourned the years of my twenties that were yet to happen and begrudgingly resigned myself to existence in stagnation. Time was meaningless and at once was hurriedly escaping through the tiny gaps of our desperately clenched fists. But then I discovered that the slow pace fed my soul. For the first time, I received my own kindness. I could immerse myself in the richness of everything I still had and everything I could still do. Small joys became where I found my fulfilment. This year will be the year that I continue building on the lessons that only stillness could grant me. It will be the year that I continue to live through gratitude. I did not ‘lose’ being twenty-one, and with or without indulgent travel and spontaneous opportunity, I will not lose twenty-two. So the saying goes: we can bloom where we are planted.
But then I discovered that the slow pace fed my soul. For the first time, I received my own kindness.
I sketched a quick mind map of words to do with 2020 before writing this, just to see what came to mind. You’d be forgiven for thinking that the twelve words I chose reflected the unimaginable devastation and disruption of the past year, but there was only one: loss. I think, sadly, this word encapsulates many peoples’ experiences of the past year, whether they are mourning something tangible or something more abstract. I lost my Great Grandad in the summer, and the restrictions prevented us from attending his funeral, which meant I also lost my last chance to say goodbye. Somehow, though, this loss is easier to reconcile with than the loss of half of my second year of uni, my summer holidays and my year abroad and the thought of all the what-ifs and could-have-beens of time that I will never get back. I think at our age when life is only just beginning, we are so conscious of the life we should be living, experiences we should be enjoying and adventures we should be having. ‘Should’ is a funny word. It’s a modal verb - I’m a languages student, I had to - indicating obligation or duty or expressing the right state or situation for something to be in. I know I’m not the only one who thinks that 2020 ‘should’ have been different and it ‘should’ have been better. But ‘different’ and ‘better’ are personal and subjective and kind of incongruous with the objective strength of ‘should’. Who are we to decide what should have happened? ‘Should’ can only be used in the context of planning what comes next or criticising what’s come before and neither of those is conducive to enjoying the present, which is something I have definitely learned to do in 2020. So, looking at some of the other eleven words on my mind map - time, appreciation, growth, gratitude and love - I think I spent 2020 doing exactly what I should have done; looking after myself, and I think I’m different and better because of that.
I know I’m not the only one who thinks that 2020 ‘should’ have been different and it ‘should’ have been better. But ‘different’ and ‘better’ are personal and subjective and kind of incongruous with the objective strength of ‘should’. Who are we to decide what should have happened?
To say I had high hopes for the first year of what I am often told will be my ‘best years’ would be an understatement. As cliché as it sounds, I expected new experiences, meeting new people and seeing more of the world. Instead, this was replaced with moving back to my parent’s house, not seeing anyone but them for months, and only being allowed outside for an hour a day by law. But as time passed I learned to settle into this environment that I once knew so well, the unique experience of being with my parents as an adult, and learned to love where I live in a way I had never appreciated before.
But as time passed I learned to settle into this environment that I once knew so well, the unique experience of being with my parents as an adult, and learned to love where I live in a way I had never appreciated before.
This piece was edited by Tamara El-Halawani and Phoebe McKechnie.