Alice Derieux Chagnard is French-American from Seattle. She now attends Sciences Po in Reims and University of British Columbia.
So, according to you, how was this year universally impactful?
“No longer were there individual destinies; only a collective destiny, made of plague and emotions shared by all.” (Albert Camus La Peste)
This year was universally impactful because it was universal.
Every single human being on earth was affected by it, regardless of their nationality, class etc. This type of massively shared experience which transcended every delimitation is a rare phenomenon nowadays.
both narrower minded and open minded
I believe this experience made people both narrower minded and open minded. It acted as a double-edged sword, both uniting ‘citizens of the world’ but also creating confined bubbles where it is easy to forget that the rest of the world exists.
This pandemic pushed us closer together but also further apart. Friendships were both strengthened and broken by the intense isolation of confinement.
The fact that I know that someone on the other side of the world is experiencing the same COVID-19 related worries as I have has made me feel more connected to a global “us”.
But the routine of at-home confinement and “Zoom” university has also made me feel very disconnected from the rest of the world.
both complicated and simplified
This year was universally impactful because it was completely unique, like no other year anyone has ever experienced. The ways in which the pandemic complicated our lives, but also (arguably) simplified our lives is unprecedented and affected all of us.
What has the shared experience made us realize? Any lessons?
This shared experience has made us realize that we are capable of living with very little. Our lives can be boiled down to a humble simplistic routine. No need for travel plans, coffee dates, movie theatres, skiing, shopping at malls, going to bars, clubs, or even going to school!
Whether or not this is a discouraging realization depends on your point of view ;). The frivolous distractions our capitalistic system makes us depend on were taken away from us this year, and although the most privileged might have whined a bit, the experience as a whole made us realize how little we actually need.
On a more pessimistic note, 2020 also made us realize how flawed, sick, and broken society currently is.
the virus magnifies our weaknesses
COVID-19 revealed the worst traits of our capitalistic world: inequality, racism, poverty, gender inequality, xenophobia, … And the list goes on… This virus revealed our sickness. It magnified our weaknesses.
Like many people this year, I’m currently reading La Peste by Albert Camus. This quote summarizes this phenomenon well:
“It was as if the earth on which our houses stood were being purged of its secreted humors, thrusting up to the surface the abscesses and pus-clots that had been forming in its entrails. You must picture the consternation of our little town, hitherto so tranquil, and now, out of the blue, shaken to its core” (page 16)
The biggest lesson I took away from 2020 is that no matter how much you think you can plan and control your life, you really can’t.
It might seem cheesy, but I think we need to get better at letting go. We need to let go of the control through which we perceive life, and instead hold on to those around us that matter.
Each person experienced the universal shock of their own personal way –we seemingly all went through highs and lows.
–– what specifically about the pandemic experience was the most challenging for you?
In my extremely privileged experience, what was most challenging for me was feeling stuck.
During confinements and without having the ability to move (or travel), I got slightly “claustrophobic’’ Maybe that isn’t the right word, but I just felt restless. However, through this experience I learned to be ok with that feeling of restlessness and to accept being “stuck”.
difficult to live in the moment
Another challenge was the difficulty I had living in the moment. I constantly felt I either had to remember the “good old pre-pandemic times” to keep my spirits up, or project myself into the future, into the post pandemic world when this would all be over. These constant back-and-forth projections made it impossible for me to just be content with my current life, or to take in the present pandemic.
The general anxieties of this state of in-betweenness and feeling stuck made it difficult to see this moment in my life as more than just an intermediate phase. This pandemic experience truly exposed the uncomfortable liminal nature of our social structures and our lives.
–– do you think you needed 2020? did the experience of confinement, etc. allow for any personal realizations/ growth?
I would say overall, yes. I did need 2020. Although it did sometimes bring out the worst in me (my poor communication skills, my occasional anti-social tendencies, and my inability to be satisfied with my present situation, for example).
to create space for myself
It also allowed me to reflect on the people who were most important to me, to create space for myself, and to cherish the aspects of life I had taken for granted pre-pandemic.
I realized through confinement that it is important to be ok with being alone. In fact, not only did I realize it, but I got quite good at it! I also learned about the value of a good walk, of a good phone conversation, or of a good lazy and unproductive day.
All in all, this year allowed me to take a step back and disconnect from life, even just for a bit.
Before 2020, life was going fast, everything was changing quickly, and I didn’t have time to breathe or understand what was happening. 2020 put my life on pause. Although some would say 2020 was a wasted year, I would argue that we needed 2020 to understand how vulnerable we are, but also how endurant we can be.
–– how has this unique year generally shaped you?
This year, I understood that time works in mysterious ways. The confinement distorted time: some days felt long, and some months felt short.
Because of the unreliability of time and the constant uncertainty felt by all of us, I now feel much more at ease with simply taking life one day at a time. The reduced mobility experienced by all during lockdown has made us feel stuck in the present, not knowing when this will all end. However, being stuck in the present has allowed me to feel more at peace with myself and less anxious about my future.
The fact that I (and we all were) able to adapt to such strange times means that we are capable of doing so in 2021, 2022, 2023, etc. The resilience and the efforts to get through this together made me feel much more poised and confident in my abilities to just deal with the flow of life.
less pressure on myself
This year has helped me be more confident about how I want to live my life. It has helped me squander my previous consumeristic habits, has helped me slow down and put less pressure on myself, has made me prioritize close family and friends, and has pushed me to spend more time outside in nature.
If 2020 was a book, each chapter an account of one’s own personal experience of the year, what would be the title of your chapter?
‘Bed, Desk, Computer and Repeat’. I feel like for most university students, that was the routine which really consumed our daily lives this year. Getting used to this mundane lifestyle is probably one of the most prominent features of my year!
What’s a memory of yours from this year you hope to preserve forever?
I experienced some intensely emotional experiences where relationships with my loved ones and friends flourished.
I’ll cherish the memories of moments spent outdoors with family and friends, when campus closed for the first time, or when I was reunited with people I hadn’t seen in a while. I’ve great memories of when I was able to surmount the negative consequences of the pandemic and see the beauty in life!
How will you remember 2020 twenty years from now?
Knowing myself and my extremely selective memory, I’ll manage to distort my memory of 2020 and make it into something, which dramatically affected me.
If I tell future generations about 2020, I’ll want them to understand how drastic the pandemic was. I certainly wasn’t one of the hardest hit by the pandemic, but I know that collectively, we suffered this year.
I might joke about it a little 20 years from now (“remember the CURFEW!”), but mostly I will remember this year as a big blur of either trying to be super productive and distracting myself with schoolwork or at home Youtube workout challenges. I think I will also remember that constant anxious feeling we all had in our guts all year. It is difficult to describe, but there was apprehension, restlessness, and worry in the air ALL YEAR, and I think I will never forget that.
How will having lived 2020 impact the year to come— either in terms of new general normalcy or rather how you envision the effects on your own life post-pandemic?
I am not quite sure how my life will be affected from now on. I think I will either go crazy and want to live my life in extremes where I do everything, I was unable to do during the pandemic, or I will adapt my life to the new normalcy created by the pandemic: a more simple life which requires very little.
more grateful in 2021
More realistically, I think 2021 will be a year of extravagance but also of modesty. I know I will be much more grateful in 2021 for everything I have and will be able to slow down and appreciate the beauty in everyday life.
About the Article
A look at a French-American bi-national, who rode out the quarantine with her family in Seattle.