Hindsight is 2020: Reflecting on a wild year

Hindsight is 2020 | Kimberly Hetherington | Art Therapy with Kimberly

Alas, we have made it. 2020 finally comes to a close.

Reflecting back on this year feels like looking down the cliff of an enormous mountain I was forced to climb. A mountain that was planted, out of nowhere, directly in front of my carefully laid out path, squashing flowers and wildlife in the process.

Yet it all started so perfectly. Isn’t there some superstition that a good New Year’s Eve means a great year? Clearly that is 100% false. We ended 2019 travelling through Denmark and celebrating the most picture perfect Christmas in Finland. We were in Paris for New Years Eve and stopped for a kiss in front of the Eiffel Tower. 2020 was going to be our year. We were to get married in Canada and have our honeymoon in Tanzania. I would graduate as a transpersonal art therapist and embark on my new career. It felt like life was about to begin for us.

But then out of nowhere, boom, a global pandemic.

I remember when I first heard of the Coronavirus. I was interning in the mental health unit of a hospital and noticed a few residents gathering in front of the TV. They were watching a breaking news segment on a virus that was spreading across China. Wow, I thought to myself, should they be watching this? What if it made them paranoid enough to think that this virus could spread across the world and develop into a global pandemic that would go on to kill hundreds of thousands of people? The next week on my lunch break my mentor told me to watch a Four Corners report on the Coronavirus. She was saying that it’s spreading rapidly and getting pretty serious. At the time my dad was staying with us and we decided to take a spontaneous trip to Adelaide. No matter where we went, or how much I tried to avoid it, the news of Coronavirus outbreak followed us. By the time we arrived back in Sydney the entire country was in lockdown.

It was pretty shocking to be a part of something like that. My dad had several trips planned in Australia and was not ready to leave. But when the Canadian government urged all Canadian travellers to return home he had to reconsider. However my dad is not one to obey authority easily. He played it down and figured that everyone was being ‘dramatic’. We definitely didn’t and he eventually agreed to reschedule his flight home. We sat down in the living room trying to get him home but everything we booked was quickly cancelled or full. After a few hours of trying, he found a flight to Thailand and figured it would be a good place to stop for a few weeks before returning to Canada. (Plot twist: he’s still in Thailand).

I absolutely loved lockdown. I loved not having to go anywhere or do anything and knowing that everyone else was in the same boat. For the first time since social media entered my life I actually didn’t experience FOMO. Every day after I finished work I would walk to a stunning reserve to meditate on a rock by the water. It was absolute bliss to watch the waves lap the shore and feel the sun on my skin. On the way back it felt like my eyes were washed clean, the colors seemed more vibrant and vivid. These meditations were healing my body and mind in the most profound way. I also noticed others meditating on rocks nearby which seemed to grow as lockdown progressed. It was like the world was changing before my eyes. Slowly we were reverting back to a simpler life. I could not believe how quiet the streets were. We live beside what is normally a very busy road, almost like a highway, and suddenly the cars stopped. I felt like we were living in a zombie apocalypse movie. In a world that is obsessed with being busy, it was a luxury to just stop. To get off this chaotic and busy ferris wheel that has become daily life. It was a gift to have all this extra time that was otherwise spent rushing around, getting ready for work, making dinner, doing laundry, cleaning, only to do it all over again the very next day. I genuinely don’t know how I survived five days of that every week. It seems completely crazy to me now.

Meditating daily also helped me to stay calm while Mat and I both anxiously wondered what was going to happen to our wedding in Canada. We told each other that we would get married no matter what, hazmats suits and all. But then one morning in March we received a heartbreaking email explaining that our flights were cancelled. Only essential travel was permitted. I fell to the floor in tears when I found out. It felt like the rug was ripped from under my feet. I had been looking forward to this wedding for so long that I imagined every single aspect of it. Every tear, every dance, every speech. Every detail of that wedding was so crystal clear in mind. Although we had the option to reschedule for 2021, there were too many unknowns to make any decisions. In the end, we cancelled everything and lost a fair bit of money in the process. Things ended bitterly with certain vendors who refused to refund us despite our situation. It hurt, and like many others who also had their plans destroyed, I needed to grieve. As dramatic as this sounds, in some ways it reminded me of the pain of my sister’s death. It brought back memories of the unpredictability of life, the loss of control, and those around me who were unable to acknowledge the heartbreak of loss. At the same time I was also undergoing training to become a volunteer grief counsellor for people who are experiencing grief, loss and trauma. Clearly, it was not the right time but I wanted to be “productive” so I pushed myself anyway. The training was triggering, to say the least, and it brought back many painful memories of my sister. I was hit with a tsunami of grief that was so intense and painful it felt like I’d been dragged back to those early days when my sister died.

Shortly after all of this, Mat was on the phone with his family back in France. He was pacing the apartment nervously. I looked at him and mouthed, ‘what’s wrong?!’ He wrote on a piece of paper: “Dad in hospital. Coronavirus.” I could not believe it. His Dad is in his 70’s with pre-existing health conditions. My heart broke for the family and for Mat, who was desperate for a flight back home. All flights were outrageously expensive with forced quarantine both ways. It was also very likely his Dad spread the virus to his mum and two brothers as they were all living in the same house. We waited anxiously to hear how this would unfold. Luckily, this story ends with a happy ending, unlike so many others. His dad fought through like the tank that he is and was able to leave the hospital without a scratch. The rest of the family were fine.   

With so much stress on us, Mat and I decided to adopt a pet. After a few strange encounters with adoption organisations, we finally found a little cat. We named her Pippin, after a character from the Lord of the Rings. We never got to meet her before we adopted her. We just saw one photo and put in an application. She was not quite the cat I expected but is exactly what Mat and I needed. She is just over one years old and is extremely playful. We have our unique version of tag/hide and seek that she initiates almost every night. Pippin has been the best thing in all of this, for both of us. She helped us take things a little less seriously. Her playful attitude brought energy and excitement back into our home again. Not to mention the second degree relaxation we get from watching her sleep upside down with her belly in the air.

Getting Pippin also marked an upward turn for the year. Despite what seemed like many obstacles on my way to graduation, I ended up finalising everything I needed to become a transpersonal art therapist. My growing love for meditation also led me to a course to become a meditation facilitator (you can find my first recorder meditation here). I began hosting events online and successfully ran my first in person art therapy event for refugee women.

It’s been quite a year, as I’m sure it has been for you. We have all been touched in some way or another by the events of 2020. Human beings are programmed to search for meaning, to create stories that make sense out of whatever happens in our lives. For me, this year was yet another reminder to let go and let life happen. To trust that things have a way of working out, even if I don’t see how and what it will look like. Because life is filled with a bazillion different routes and paths and I can only imagine a fraction of them. The rest might be better that what my own imagination can generate (even though my imagination would take that as an insult). Ultimately if my happiness is hinged upon very specific outcomes then I’ll be forever waiting or disappointed. Life rarely ever goes according to plan. Remembering and accepting this is definitely a practice, just like my meditation. And just like with meditation I show up every day even when I don’t feel like it. Even when I think I’m doing it wrong, even when I keep peeking at the clock wondering ‘is this over yet?’. I still do it anyway.

In the meantime, I look forward to what unfolds in the new year. I surrender to life as it is, not as I think it should be.

I welcome this new year by gently placing it in my hands and letting it be exactly as it is.

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