by Kevin Mercurio
This post is a dedication to a poem written by Ravi Shankar named Lines on a Skull: https://poets.org/poem/lines-skull.
Look inwards, my breath
a violent wind. Noisy sounds,
jump. Never ending
crying in the crib,
hungry, a sliver of love,
crystal clear embrace.
What is essential;
internal or external
effort. Build upwards
using the basics.
Crafting life, so obsolete,
feel the magnet’s pull.
The commencement of a new decade is typically associated with actions of novelty, actions that lead to new changes in life and the development of our full potential. Now, these novel actions can originate from completely different causes, those of joy or those of tragedy. With the climax of 2020 behind us, it is not hyperbole to say that most of our actions this year were derived from terrible tragedy after terrible tragedy.
I mean, a storyline consisting of a seemingly innocuous viral outbreak in a region thousands of kilometres away became the sole reason for millions of deaths and the halt of global functions. Finances shifted, small businesses plummeted. Behavioural economics adjusted, outdoor socializing crumbled. Attention reallocated, climate change advocacy diminished.
And yet, this was not to our detriment. We were always, and continue to be, evolving provocateurs of the established norms, of social structures. The pathogenic deaths of millions was comparably as outrageous as the deaths of a few by the hands of police brutality. A public, not just in the Americas but far across the oceans, cried afoul against a system built on unequal foundations. As a collective, people were given the confidence and the numbers to shout truths that only recently were merely whispers of injustice.
But what was the major lesson from this? Let me start with what the above original poem was based on: Ravi Shankar’s Lines in a Skull. To my first-time readers, I usually start most yearly reflections with a poem dedicated to my favourite lines of poetry (and if you read my other annual blogs, you’re in for a real shitstorm). Lines in a Skull, to me, was about the similarities of life and death. Yes, this master of language equates two antonyms together. Essentially, at least in death, you become useful as resources to other lifeforms (animals, bacteria in the soil, etc.). So why not use the different parts of your brain (or lines of the skull, where wit shone of shine) and be useful when alive?
Finding likeness between two exact opposites is kind of like the process we faced in 2020. I can go metaphorical here with polarization in politics, pandemic restrictions, hell, even cancel culture (all prevalent this year), but let’s not go down that rabbit hole into Shittyland. What I’m suggesting to do is far more tedious, but potentially more rewarding. Let’s juxtapose the actions you took this year, with those that you would have done if 2020 wasn’t such a dump.
You might wonder at how one might do that. For an easy example, how many trips have you cancelled due to travel restrictions? And what did you end up doing instead? Like some people I know, the answers to the latter question is the crux of which I am hoping to get to at some point in this post. But let’s hover over outright identification and ruminate a bit longer (oh, how I like to complicate things by thinking too much).
Everybody, whether infected with SARS-CoV-2 or not, adapted to the constantly changing environment of the local and global community. We moved from having an urge to be seen as productive, to having a desire for actually being productive. Workers (that were able to) decided on what their hours would be, virtual team meetings drastically cutting times. Hell, a platform that simulates “the meeting” just appeared out of thin air, forgetting about their obvious privacy concerns. Why? For doing a mundane task so seamlessly and effortlessly. For efficiency. For doing something essential in a way you actually prefer.
The poem I wrote above tries to capture that. There was all this noise before, the only difference now is that we are aware of the shataclysm. There are so many things that we are told we need, but this year has given us an opportunity to focus on what we truly need. What got us to wake up and get out of bed during a global pandemic? What made us laugh during a time when people refused to accept the seriousness of COVID-19? What attracted us like a magnet? What were the things that made life seamless and effortless? The essentials. See where I’m going with this?
In a year so obviously horrid that it has become a retired meme, there were moments where the essentials gave us happiness, even for a brief moment. For myself, these were little things, cheesy activities like speaking to my mom about her day at work, spending time playing with my cat, starting a podcast hobby, working out everyday. But they weren’t all good moments either; like ending a long-term relationship, losing contact with friends, and getting lost in a forest for hours… But these all started from good intentions. What was essential was not the relationship, keeping friends, or hiking; but putting a stop to something that would never flourish, seeing your real friend circle, and spending time getting lost with your sibling. These are the essentials.
In this new year of 2021, we stop pretending and make real inner promises. No, I don’t mean to make New Years Resolutions (though this might be considered one). I want you and I to make a full-on lifestyle change. Think about the essentials, and build on them. Though I agree that life should be an everlasting struggle, we should strive for what seems seamless and effortless, forever driving the principles we’ve engrained that will help us reach our maximum potential and impact society. Like Shankar says, “life’s little, our heads sad. Redeemed and wasting clay this chance. Be of use.”
Cut the bullshit and be useful to yourself and society at large.
As I do every year, I would like to share with you now the blooper reel of 2020. To the tragic moments and to the joyful moments, to all those I’ve encountered who shaped a newfound outlook for 2021 and beyond, here’s to celebrate everything that happened to us together!