I don’t think that anybody would disagree that 2020 was a tough year, not only for individuals, but for the planet, for the human race as a whole. The pandemic caused by the outbreak of the coronavirus (Covid-19) hit so hard that the damage was almost insurmountable. Many bid farewell to their loved ones, others to their careers as a result of the downsizing policy adopted by many workplaces around the world, and many more to optimism. People lost their health, their money, their stability and even their peace of mind with the specter of danger haunting us during the day and manifesting itself in nightmares during the night. Indeed, 2020 was an exceptionally tough year.

However, there are usually blessings that don’t fail to come in disguise. Devastating as 2020 has been, as the Christmas tree starts to glow, it brings us a certain degree of peace, and hope starts to smoothly seep into our souls, a hope in a better tomorrow. The little lights on the Christmas tree seem like little lights in the darkness of 2020, a few blessings as well as pretty small things that we might have learned. Although these have probably been learned the hard way, as offsprings of a hard year, they’re still worthy of consideration, and they are likely to influence our personal lives positively in the future. In such tough times, the things one would aspire for the most are hope, peace and serenity. Here are a few things I’ve learned which, even though learned the hard, I think could fill the soul with peace:

  1. Enjoy what you have:

Life in the time of corona has deprived us of many blessings which for years and years we have taken for granted. We used to complain about going to work, taking the kids to school or even running errands for the house. Being confined to our homes, though still a blessing, taught us to appreciate what previously had been a daily, boring routine. Your heart will be filled with satisfaction and serenity when you learn to appreciate even the little things that you have, when you learn to be thankful for having a tiring job when others have lost theirs, for having a home to be confined to when others are confined to a hospital bed, for having kids when others have been locked up completely alone, for having an overprotective, seemingly stifling, parent when others have lost a parent to the pandemic. Take a minute to think of all the tiresome things you have as a source of happiness. Remember, the key to peace of mind is satisfaction.

  • It’s high time you start evaluating your relationships:

Why do we build relationships with others? To be happy. The answer is as simple as that. By the same token, if a relationship has the opposite effect on you, why should you torture yourself and go on with it? Being taught by a tough year to value peace and serenity, I’ve finally learned to evaluate my relationships and only to cling on to those which bring me the peace I seek. A relationship, a close one, is a responsibility, whether it’s a bond between you and a life partner, a friend or a member of your extended family, and a responsibility entails effort exerted in order to make sure you’re doing your part. However, such a responsibility doesn’t normally bother a person who is shouldering it willingly; it becomes honey to the heart, an interesting expression in my Arab culture that means effort exerted willingly and with pleasure because something is worth that effort. I’ve learned to shoulder this responsibility with utmost pleasure for those who matter and to whom I feel I do matter. I’ve learned to walk away, holding no grudge, from the lives of those to whom I no longer matter or to whom I feel I’ve become a burden in respect for myself as well as to save them the embarrassment. I’ve learned to stop crossing the ocean for people who wouldn’t cross the street for me. I’ve also learned to respect all types of relationships, for in our hearts we will always cherish even those with whom we have beautiful memories of the happy past, at least in respect for the bread we once broke together.

  • Learn to cherish the very moment:

Since the pandemic broke out, the specter of fear has been looming over our very heads, threatening our lives and, most importantly, the lives of our loved ones. Being asthmatic myself, I’ve been classified as one of those who are more threatened by the pandemic than others, those who wouldn’t probably have the chance to survive should they contract the disease. The idea of death doesn’t disturb me much, but the idea of pain does. On top of everything, I was freaking out for my parents who are already old and hence vulnerable. I would keep whining and screaming internally in fear and be obsessed with sanitizers and facemasks until I realized how pointless that was. If any of us is going to lose their life to the pandemic, they are going to lose it no matter how careful they are, for “Naught shall visit us but what God has prescribed for us; He is our Protector; in God let the believers put all their trust” (Arberry’s translation). God’s words came to soothe me and calm me down. I came to realize that the only thing we can do is to cherish every moment, to spend as much time as we can with our loved ones, to savour tranquility and try and engage in activities that give us happiness.

  • Learn to let go:

Each of us is a little universe within the one big universe, and like 2020 witnessed the devastation of our big universe, it has also witnessed mine being devastated and shattered to pieces. To cut a very long story short, it has witnessed the loss of my long-awaited dream, the thing I’ve been for years and years waiting for, after I thought I was finally going to attain it. My universe was turned upside down. It was like I was thrown mercilessly into a pitch dark well with no hope of being rescued. There was only grief and more grief. Did it all stop at that? No. I became so vulnerable that a few systems in my body broke down, and the best doctors in town failed to treat me. I would spend the night gasping for breath, and I would hear the noise made by my own chest in a miserable attempt to draw some air. That wasn’t all though. I was hardly able to concentrate to perform my work tasks, let alone write research papers which are also a work requirement. Where did this grief lead me? Absolutely nowhere. Why is that? Because it couldn’t bring me what I’ve lost. This is not an attempt to convince you that we don’t have the right to grief. After all, we’re humans, not robots without feelings. We have the right to respect our grief, to cry and whine and stomp our feet in anger and disappointment. But we also need to understand that loss is a fact of life that we will definitely have to deal with probably more than once. We need to take our time to heal, but we also need to have faith that God has better plans for us than the ones we have for ourselves.

  • Give yourself its due:

Being kind is a virtue, and showing care or helping someone in need are traits of people who have hearts of gold. However, seeking peace of mind after years of looking for it, I’ve also learned to value and appreciate myself and give it its due. I’ve always been a shy person who couldn’t say “no” to anybody, and some people excelled in making the best use of that. I’ve learned the hard way that people wouldn’t value you unless you value yourself first. I’ve learned that being a helpful person doesn’t contradict setting your own limits and making clear to others that you won’t allow them to cross these limits. I’ve learned that stepping out of your comfort zone IS a sacrifice that must be appreciated. I’ve learned to say “no” if I’m requested to do something that is not within my capabilities or to delay it if I’m exhausted and need some rest. Being kind to others is great, but most importantly, you need to learn to be kind to yourself.

  • Be a loveable person:

True friends are gems, and relationships in general, apart from exhausting and toxic ones, are a real treasure that only the fortunate may find on their life journey. Love only breeds love, and if you plant the seeds of love, you’re definitely the winner. Somebody would remember your birthday with a special gift. Somebody would keep you in their prayers. Somebody would listen to you on the phone even if you’re keeping silent in times of despair. Somebody would go an extra mile to extend a helping hand to you in times of need. Somebody would call only to say they miss you. It’s true that the social distancing imposed by the pandemic has deprived us of the very precious hugs and kisses we used to give to and receive from our loved ones, and it has even kept us distances apart with curfews and fear from catching the virus or even unintentionally transferring it to a loved one. However, physical connection is not the only language of love. Social media has really played a key role in connecting us during that difficult time, and the love and warmth your loved ones would shower you with, no matter how distant they are, are priceless.

These are a few lessons I’ve learned the hard way in a hard year. Although these are very personal, I hope they find their way to someone’s heart. May the nightmare be over, and may all our coming years be filled with joy and peace. May 2021 really be a happy new year.