This was a year like no other. This was a year that turned the most accepted ways of existence on their heads. This was a year that terrified, evoked pain that had no point of reference, and caused fear unseen in the darkest horror tales of the modern history.
This was a year that brought the strongest nations to their knees, forcing them in prostration in unison with some of the weakest countries of the world. This was a year that rewrote most of the rules of humanity, propelling the most scientifically advanced and technologically sophisticated world to confront the starkest reality most sensible humans tend to forget for as long as they are capable of breathing without a ventilator: death is the only certainty in life.
This was the year when humanity on a global scale was forced to embrace such deep loneliness human touch became the most coveted asset in the world. This was the year when the world cleaved into the haves and have-nots like never before. This was the year when science replaced economics to decide the way forward. This was the year when humanity bound with the thread of one agony united in a way that defied any linguistic definition.
2020, the year that was. The year that still is for a few more hours. The year that will be known in the human history as the year of the pandemic of the new coronavirus. 2020 seemed interminably long in its endless loop of pain and misery and helplessness and death. But 2020 also seemed to have ended in a bewildered hurry leaving no time to take stock of what happened, how much happened, and to how many people. The world despite its chimpanzee memory will never forget 2020 as the twelve months that knocked the oxygen out of its strongest systems, infected some of its most resilient folks, tested some of its most patient entities, and killed more humans than graveyards could easily house side by side.
Many did not care even when death took away an unimaginable number of people. The old and the young, the healthy and the ill, the strong and the frail became indistinguishable targets of coronavirus. What could have been a preventable disease, despite its lethalness, mushroomed into a global demographic-changing catastrophe. Some of the world’s most materially and scientifically advanced countries, following the hollow bravado of their smug leaders, seemed impervious to the horror of the new coronavirus. The loss of human lives in 2020 is unheard of in the memory of even the oldest homo sapien alive today.
On December 30, 2020, according to John Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Centre, the number of global coronavirus cases was 82,083,787. The number of the recovered patients was 9,834,141. The number of deaths was 1,792,786. The sole superpower and the world’s oldest democracy USA is in the lead in terms of the number of cases and deaths: 19,516,148 and 338,656, respectively. The world’s largest democracy India is at number two in terms of the number of cases and at number three in the number of deaths: 10,244,852 and 148,439, respectively.
As 2020 saw millions of human beings–smiling, loved, successful, ambitious, decent, healthy, fearless, ready to face any odd –turn into statistics of the casualties of a disease that had no cure, it also marvelled at human’s tenacity to continue to do much that should not have been done while facing a virus that shredded to smithereens all discriminations of class, colour, creed, religion, nationality, border. In the US, the right to live freely prevented millions of Americans from practising their right to live safely and not harming others. They forgot the application of common sense to stick to the very basic coronavirus prevention guideline: wear a mask.
Much of the “first world” behaved that way. Most of the developing and under-developed countries did not care too much either. Countries like Pakistan where freedom of existence comes with various caveats, the majority of the people did not take the horror of coronavirus seriously.
Globally, in 2020, the price of human carelessness to personal and collective safety has been too high. Too, too high. The human, material and monetary loss in unquantifiable.
The selflessness of medical personnel, the real heroes of the war against coronavirus, and the dedication of scientists who worked racing against the merciless time to invent vaccines against coronavirus, some of which are available to people of many countries at the end of 2020, have redefined the evaluation of human beings in myriad terms.
Critically ill patients isolated from their loved ones in the sterile aloneness of a COVID ICU taught a new lesson in the classification of the most important aspects of human life.
Countless people forced to remain in a government mandated lockdown or for other reasons were unable to visit their loved ones, sometimes in the same country. Hurried burials of the tightly bound bodies of the COVID dead were attended only by the immediate family members. Many people saw the worldly hell of losing more than one family member. The farewell hugs became a dream. The last words were a dua. The final sight of the dead loved one alone on an ICU bed was the memory that would haunt for an eternity.
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Much is being made of what 2020’s relentless unleashing of pain and death has hurled upon human beings. Not much of that will be remembered once the vaccine becomes a common phenomenon. That is the way of the world, even the post-COVID world. People will continue to exist in their trivialisation of the most important as if its continuation is an inviolable truth for the longevity of their lives.
The word of the year of Merriam-Webster and Dictionary dot com is “pandemic.” There was global paranoia. There was global inclusiveness. There was widespread fear. Excellence in medical science overshadowed the list of who made more billions. The invisible new virus was the new nuke. Entire cities became desolate jungles of concrete and steel devoid of human presence. Education was online. Almost all of business activity halted. Shopping was for the basics and medicines. Travelling stopped. Masks covered anxious faces. PPE became the new shield. Physical touch was the new taboo. Waves replaced hugs. Intimacy was a cluster of heart emojis. There was universal virtual hand holding. The pandemic deepened schisms. Collective pain united the world. Individual suffering was the nightmare that spilled into daylight. Every day.
Loneliness was 2020’s keyword.
In June I was infected, and so was my niece, whom I love more than a daughter. While she suffered a great deal of pain, I was fortunate to be asymptomatic other than the pre-test and mid-COVID body aches. Her pain was my agony. To be in isolation for almost a month reshaped certain things within me. Having been forced to not hug my son, not hug my niece and nephews, not pet my dogs, disinfect everything I touched or wore, and not go anywhere jolted in me a newfound appreciation of the little but the most invaluable things in life.
Reach out to those who matter the most to you. If near you, give them the tightest hug as if there is no tomorrow. Bin the superficial. Learn to forgive even when forgetting is hard. Make phone calls that you jotted down in your mental itinerary but never had time to make. Visit old friends. Visit ailing relatives. Open your mind to new ideas. Dream. Do things you always wanted to but pushed into your bucket list for fear of failure, for lack of time, for little motivation. Laugh. And love.
2020’s biggest lesson: Life is today.
May 2021 be everything that is good and healthy and joyous and inclusive.
May 2021 undo the pain of 2020.