You know the the story: a hero goes to rescue someone from a dangerous land, and they are told one explicit rule to follow: don’t look back.
So, of course, they look back.
Orpheus rescues Eurydice from the dead but looks back and she vanishes forever.
Lot’s wife (unnamed, so let’s call her Lottie why not?) looks back on the doomed town she is fleeing and turns to salt.
And so many other parallel myths from the Japanese, Mayan, Indian and Sumerian legends.
Well that is how a lot of us are probably relating to this calendar year called 2020.
Move on and don’t ever talk about it again, right?
Or at least we all agree this is the botched timeline borne from time travel hijinks right?
Let me ask something outrageous:
What if we embrace 2020 for all its dumpster-fire messiness?
Okay yes – there is a certain level of wisdom to not wallowing in loss.
People have lost family and friends, time and money, freedom to travel abroad or just go out in public, as well as the privilege to simply not have to think about risks of one’s health on the daily…
And yet, there is also a level of wisdom to learn lessons whenever possible, especially hard bitter ones. I cannot tell you the lesson of 2020 or covid, because it’s hardly a lesson if someone else has to tell you it and my lessons are going to be different than your own. Mine might be something like, don’t vote for incompetent capitalists, don’t neglect health education, prioritize vulnerable communities during crises…
I think a lesson I’m slowly coming toward, as 2020 closes, is:
PERSPECTIVE WILL CHANGE.
Generally, there is a tendency to associate changes in opinion as a undesirable quality.
As in, it’s immature, weak or foolish to go in a different direction or believe something new. People from earlier in your life might object to you doing or not doing something strictly because you weren’t doing/not doing it last week, last year, last decade.
And it’s probably why so many of us struggle with apologies because we are being required to admit we have come to see the errors in what we believed, said or did.
I also think people, myself included, are afraid to be vulnerable in this respect – to show we can be corrected, we can develop and transition, turn into different kinds of people.
We are living our own character arcs in a story.
Maybe it is just because changing into someone else is scary?
Whatever the reason, it is akin to much of the mainstream in how its misunderstanding is actively contributing to our own collective ill.
We change whether we like to or not, but is our inability to accept that process in ourselves and in others that creates and exacerbates the conflicts in life.
Take my own life for example.
Once upon a time, I remember as a child being fairly indifferent to art.
Maybe it was a feeling shared by my class and teacher(s), but from primary to high school, Art Class seemed to be a lesser-than subject, a blow-off period, an easy grade.
Don’t get me wrong – I loved making art.
I remember pestering my mother with tales of my own superheroes and their powers (a chameleon fella with a long tongue and wobbly eyes).
I remember requesting my sister give me her reviews of books I begged her to read (high fantasy which she didn’t enjoy sad to say).
I remember attempting to write on Microsoft 1995 stories that were mostly plagiarized retellings of Scooby Doo mysteries or Mission Impossible spy thrillers.
I remember a short-lived attempt of my first sci-fi story, about a prisoner on an alien world, held in a room and fed gruel, looking out a window upon a strange land (bleak for a tween, no?).
I remember a second equally short-lived attempt at sci-fi – writing about a person going into work hungover and slowly realizing a mass abduction of Earth has happened.
And I remember dabbling in fantasy writing about orcs and elves, and scary magic children.
Yet for as long as I could remember, I never considered being a artist professionally.
I never considered my drawing or my storytelling as a serious endeavor.
Maybe I simply did not have the courage to believe I deserved (as we all do) to make a living doing something personally empowering and satisfying?
Which is why I stayed on the familiar, “safer” path of staying in school for as long as possible. I completed a Bachelors and Masters program, feeling comfortable in the institutionalized experience of deadlines and identifying with academia.
I worked hard and accrued tremendous debt, but it was all for a vague goal of attaining some job that I assumed would eventually become enjoyable to me. It was very much in the ends-justify-the-means rationale that tends to be such popular advice for youth, explaining it’ll all be worth it some day…
Well I believed that advice for some while, assuming the process of happiness must always be one of unhappiness, that greatness requires suffering…
Until I stopped.
Much like Arthur Miller’s 1949 play “Death of a Salesman”, where in one scene the character Biff announces:
And suddenly I stopped, you hear me?
And in the middle of that office building, do you hear this? I stopped in the middle of that building and I saw—the sky. I saw the things that I love in this world.
The work and the food and time to sit and smoke.
And I looked at the pen and said to myself, what the hell am I grabbing this for?
Why am I trying to become what I don’t want to be?
What am I doing in an office, making a contemptuous, begging fool of myself, when all I want is out there, waiting for me the minute I say I know who I am!
So I left my career path to pursue writing, not unlike a few famous authors who did likewise.
It meant realizing I was changing and so my life would have to change along with me.
It meant admitting I was going down a path in life that I wasn’t actually enjoying and suddenly believing I deserved more than that.
It meant realizing that no one is going to give me (or you) permission to chase after the things that make you come alive when you do it.
It meant, in the most simplest of terms, that my perspective had changed.
I made the conscious effort to devote myself to making good art.
It allows me to channel what I witness, usually through a funhouse mirror.
It allows me to express in ways that my tongue lacks.
I used the mistakes and wrong turns to show me how to make the right choices.
This can sound noble, but it was all I could do really.
There was nothing left but to embrace my past, to acknowledge what I once thought and assumed and judged and believed were true to me at the time but are no longer my truth.
Which is exactly what I think we could all try doing for this cluster-fuck year of 2020.
My favourite zen parable can illustrate what I mean:
There lived an old farmer.
One day, the farmer’s horse ran away.
The neighbors pitied him, saying “Too bad, what awful luck.”
To which the farmer only replied, “We’ll see.”
The next day, the horse returned with another wild horse.
“How wonderful!” said the neighbors in celebration.
To which the farmer replied, “We’ll see.”
The next day, the farmer’s son tried mounting the wild horse but was thrown and broke his leg.
The neighbors pitied the farmer for his son’s accident.
To which the farmer replied, “We’ll see.”
The next day, military officers came drafting young men into the army but passed over the son because of his broken leg.
The neighbors celebrated this good luck.
And the farmer replied, “We’ll see.”
So we will see too what comes of events in 2020.
My point then is not to prescribe a solution to make the past twelve months less brutal.
Nor am I telling you that what doesn’t kill you makes you strong, because that’s unhelpful.
What I am saying is to recognize how things look to you now may change.
Beware urges to cling to one forever feeling about something during 2020, or all of 2020.
That’s my perspective on moving forward into 2021 – but I expect it might change!
Thanks for reading.