Neha Maqsood considers the individual and collective experiences of the past year, which she argues should inform our post-pandemic existence

2020 was a year when every day seemed both highly eventful and highly uneventful.

Though the year was punctuated by colossal devastation, it was also a renascence. The Coronavirus pandemic delivered a much-needed ‘reality check’ to humanity and its unsustainable habits.

As we look forward to the resumption of our pre-pandemic lives, now that vaccines are being administered around the world, we all must consider – individually and collectively: which elements of our new lives we will be keeping, and which we will be happily ditching for good?

For many of us, the past year has been an opportunity to rediscover life’s simpler offerings. For others, it has provided a period of reflection and recovery.

“Prior to the pandemic, I had been attempting to seek therapy for my depression and anxiety disorder, but I wasn’t able to due to college, family and other priorities,” Sabah Khan, a university student in Pakistan, told Byline Times. “I had almost reached the tipping point. So, when lockdown happened, it was like the world around me had suddenly fallen silent and, for the first time, I was able to pay attention to myself and recognise the disservice I was doing to my mental health.” 

For other young women, lockdown offered a moment for introspection about their relationship with their gender. Women and girls began to question why they had bought into the ‘feminine ideal’, whereby they must fulfil stereotypical, male-prescribed, ideas of beauty.

“Truthfully, to be a woman in quarantine was sort of a relief,” Tania Ali, a 24-year-old woman working in accounting in Canada, told Byline Times. “I could be shabbily dressed, without a face of make-up on work calls and nobody cared. It was only in the past year that I finally began to add up how much time I had wasted over the years maintaining regular salon sessions for blow-outs or pedicures. Now, after a year, I feel like I’ve been emancipated from this faux-feminine ideal.”

Though many people may enter post-pandemic life with an enhanced understanding of themselves and the world around them, many more are likely to approach it with more anxiety.

“I really liked this return to a more simpler life,” Sydney Smith, an ‘A’ Level student and poet from Bristol, told Byline Times. “It’s terrifying to see how desperate the Government and certain sections of society are to return to the ‘old normal’. The attempts [the Government] has made to ‘boost the economy’, like encouraging people to eat out at restaurants and encouraging office workers to return to work, all seems much too consumerist for me. Are fast-fashion and rampant consumerism really habits we want to revert back to?”

As they race to reboot their economies, governments will hopefully avoid prioritising businesses over citizens. A lesson from the pandemic surely must be that lives are not expendable. For instance, as The New York Times has reported, office workers prefer the flexibility of remote work which has allowed for greater efficiency and a more convenient lifestyle. Most people are over-worked and under-paid, and we are finally dismissing the rituals of long commutes and overpriced coffees.

For me, the pandemic forced me to come to terms with my parents’ mortality.

When cases in Pakistan began to rise exponentially last March, I immediately returned home after graduation to be with my parents and soon the three of us settled into our isolation bubble. Over the course of three months, we fell into the pattern of our new daily routines and unique rituals. 

In the evenings, my parents would share stories of their childhood in Pakistan as I would tell them about my cultural opinions and philosophies on life. Perhaps most special was when the three of us were able to fast together for the first time in four years. I was slowly rediscovering two people whom I had known for more than two decades of my life.  

Before the Coronavirus crisis, I had viewed my parents as invincible beings. In my denial, I had refused to see them as they were: two people who were rapidly ageing and who also suffered from ill-health.

But, when conversations cropped up about selecting a healthcare proxy or drafting a will, I began to become more cognisant of the fact that, like mine, my parents’ days were numbered. In quarantine, I was slowly coming to terms with the transience of life, something which I could avoid in the rush of pre-pandemic life.

As we shift into a new phase of the pandemic, there is still a vital need for society to move cautiously, especially given the looming threat of new COVID-19 variants and vaccine delivery delays in third-world nations.

But, on a more spiritual level, I believe we should promote a culture of empathy and consideration – now more than ever. Regardless of whether or not we became sick ourselves, or know someone who did, the pandemic has inflicted invisible and enduring mental scars on us all.

Going forward, I hope that we don’t completely abandon the teachings of the past year in the recesses of our mind. Though most of us felt like we languished in our beds at home, we also developed in silent ways. If anything, we learnt how stubbornly resilient humans are and that we are inter-connected; that what we do affects others, all over the globe.

I will not be permanently forgetting the past year. Instead, I will be choosing to exist in a space between the voracious pre-pandemic life and this strange, illuminating suspension of time. 


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