2020 would soon be over. It is not a year that we would like to hold on to. Yet, at the same time, it has been a year that has taught us many lessons. The lessons have been hard, but then – all lessons worth learning from, are hard in their own way. They come to change our lives and our ways of thinking and leave us different from what we were before.
The last week of the year is the Christmas week. Over the centuries, because of a number of reasons, this time of jollity around Christmas – which commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ – has ceased to be a Christian festival and has become an important occasion for everyone. The run-up to Christmas is a time of frenetic gift-buying, frequenting of shops, the sending off of greetings cards to near and dear ones and also to friends. The postal services carry these messages to all corners of the globe.
But then, this year has been different. More starkly different than any we have known in the remembered past and, most certainly, in our lifetimes. After a year of staying by ourselves, shunning crowds and company, working from home, and meeting people – officially and personally – via the internet, we are still not able to participate in convivial gatherings at these end-of-year festivities as we have done forever. Christmas too is a time when we have to stay with our immediate family or by ourselves as the virus that had wrecked normal life in 2020 has refused to die down.
Even when there have been real developments from the vaccine front and several countries have begun to administer their first inoculations, the Covid-19 virus has mutated into a more virulent strain that is 70% more infectious – and the disease has spread at an alarming rate in some countries on the European continent. Thus the record times in which vaccines have been developed by several pharmaceuticals giants are not being fully appreciated. The threat and the fear remain and we cannot let our guards down.
However, it would be impossible not to remember that this is – whatever may other circumstances be – Christmas. The spirit of Yuletide would be hard to negate. People would be reaching out to one another in whatever restricted ways that are open to them. We, at MSK, have all our friends and well-wishers in mind on this annual occasion set in this delicate time.
It is also time to make out New Year wishes. The greatest wish we have at this time is for the world to return to its feet. We don’t want, ever, to have to go through another pandemic again. In our wish, there is also an understanding which we want to share with the world and everyone connected to us. That understanding is two-fold. First is that: we have had enough of the quarantines and isolation and the misery it brings upon human beings – who are, essentially, social creatures. The second realization from these months of trauma and derailment is that when we return to life as before, we cannot make the same mistakes that we have done in the past. In order for the world to return to what we have known as normal, we have to be more responsible for our planet and everything on it – than we ever have been before.
Arundhati Roy, the Booker-winning novelist, activist, and essayist called the pandemic ‘a portal’ in her essay written this April. She called it a portal in the sense that it was a gateway between one world and the next. Like a prophet of the modern malaise, Roy writes:
“Whatever it is, coronavirus has made the mighty kneel and brought the world to a halt like nothing else could. Our minds are still racing back and forth, longing for a return to ‘normality,’ trying to stitch our future to our past and refusing to acknowledge the rupture. But the rupture exists. And in the midst of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality.
“Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”
The warning is clear. When we return to our life of old, it would not be completely like our life of old. We have to make the essential adjustments that make life better, sustainable, inclusive, and aware. Therefore, our New Year wish is weighted with this pre-condition.
A new term coined of late is ‘woke’, meaning aware – politically and socially. When we awaken to a New Year we should be really ‘woke’ to the new realities we want to define our lives by. We have to be woke to our roles and responsibilities and the interconnectivity of all live forms in this – our beautiful planet.
This is our earnest wish – for ourselves and for everyone connected to us. And that means the whole world and everything in it.
Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!