Futility and Gratitude in 2020

  • September 28, 2020
[PC: Joyce Kim]

I stare outside my window. Yesterday, I was able to see the mountain just behind the row of houses facing mine. Today, all I see are rooftops from the street across, then a haze of opaque gray-white. The air filter in my room, usually emanating a blue light to indicate normal air quality, has been flickering a sick green for the past couple of days. Besides the masks and the mess of my room, the hazy sight and charred scent of smoke is a reminder of a jarring reality — though suffocating, its tangibility, in a way, also strangely comforting.

We’ve stared out the same windows, seeing the same neighbors doing the same things, texted the same friends and wasted our days in the same detached manners; yet, within those months, so much of the world seems to have shifted under our feet. We’ve witnessed a pandemic wreak devastation across the globe, a defiant movement for racial justice and equity, political instability with regard to both domestic and foreign affairs, and now, blazing fires sweeping through the West. But these days, even reality feels deceiving.

What does grief look like? What does indignation look like? What does instability, corruption, and polarization look like? What does destruction look like? What does despair look like? I see the notifications on my screen — news and friends and posts and updates — yet, when I draw it all back to myself, I just don’t know.

Since the catastrophes of 2020 began, it’s hard to deny the sense of losing touch with things, a sense of growing distant from the normal habits of socialization that had once been such casual parts of our lives. The feeling of  restlessness — maybe aimlessness, too — that had revitalized us in the beginning now only drains us. Now with all the time in the world, I feel like I can finally catch up to my life after running breathlessly for the past couple years; yet, as soon as the sense of futility plagues me, 24 hours feels like another burden rather than an opportunity. And between losing myself and feeling overwhelmed, there is no place for the happy balance I’d hoped for in quarantine.

But sitting in an air-conditioned room and staring at my computer screen, it’s impossible to ignore my privilege. For some, these months have whisked away their loved ones, reinforced the racial and socioeconomic hierarchies of our country, or taken away any opportunities or stability they might have had. For me, these months have been an internal grapple between the passions that once kept me anchored and the hopelessness tugging me back.

And that makes me realize, too, that while our personal struggles are always valid, they sometimes need to be contextualized. That as much as this time feels like a listless drone, the way to alleviate it maybe isn’t by internalizing and mulling over it, but by looking forward, acknowledging what needs to be acknowledged, and just trying our best. 

Which is why, I’ve recognized that sometimes my biggest obstacle can be myself. This acknowledgement isn’t really to any fault of mine, but more of an attempt to reframe my thoughts and make things feel less like an unbudging problem, and more like something I can overcome. The resolution may not be a grand announcement that puts an end to our misery — it may just be finding value in the little things, making the most of what we can, and retaining hope and gratitude to console ourselves amid the futility trying to sweep us away.

I see the pile of masks and examine the fire maps and read news about looming events threatening the entire country. But even as I do, I look at the stacks of books I’ve yet to read, the songs I’ve yet to listen to. I listen to my sputtering A/C. I ravish every meal and look up at the sky, regardless of how obscure it is, and imagine the smoke like swirling clouds.

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