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My New Year’s letter to you, dear friends

One of the things I looked forward to when my kids were younger and we lived in Belgium was the New Year’s Letter.  Children write…

One of the things I looked forward to when my kids were younger and we lived in Belgium was the New Year’s Letter.  Children write letters to their parents, grandparents and godparents, wishing them a happy new year and sending lots of love. In return, they get money folded into their palms or put in their accounts. I enjoyed the letters – even when they were written by the teacher and mass-produced for a class of kindergarteners who couldn’t even read – because they were always optimistic. It was a brilliant way to start the new year. So, this is my New Year’s letter to you all:

 

Dear friends,

2021 is coming to an end. It’s been a tough year. The pandemic is two years in, and it seems increasingly uncertain that we’d ever be rid of it. To imagine that when the news of the first COVID-19 case broke, I, like many others had thought naively it would be a matter of days or weeks at most, and then things would get back to normal. 

I remember one of my students at Emory University, at the start of the pandemic wishing that our school would be forced to close so she could have a longer spring break. She got her wish. We moved online but by the fourth week, she was wishing, like so many of us, that things would go back to normal. By then, hand sanitizers and tissue paper and disinfectant sprays had become scarce, and where they were available, shoppers were fighting over them. Fortunately, grocery store aisles began to fill again with those products and to an extent, things seemed ‘normal.’ But ‘normal’ has taken on new meaning.

For many, no matter how much of the old world returns, nothing will ever be the same again. The pandemic’s taken their jobs and beloveds, torn their families irrevocably apart, upended their lives in ways they had never imagined. Their loved ones have died, isolated in hospital rooms and they, survivors of the dead have mourned alone. And yet, the sun rises and the sun sets, as if nothing’s changed at all. And to me that is an image of hope: the constancy of the sun. 

It reminds us that while some days may seem like the end of the world, it isn’t (the end)  because the night always ends and dawn breaks. Over and over and over again.

One of my favourite Rumi quotes is the one that says that “The wound is where the light enters you.” I love it for its acknowledgement that darkness (wound) and light are so closely linked. And that often, that which doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger. We will never have a perfect world. We will – as long as we live- no matter who we are, no matter how wealthy or famous we are, no matter how much we pray, suffer loss and pain. It is the nature of life. However, it helps to remember that despite whatever darkness we are facing, some light will always come through eventually. This ought to be our consolation. 

Also, while it may not seem like it at the moment we are undergoing them, our trials forge us as iron is forged in the fire. So, my dearest friends, rather than wish you a life without dips or disappointments or sadness (an impossible wish), let me instead wish you the courage and the fortitude to bear whatever trials 2022 confronts you with. May you be spat out at the other end of life’s battles – regardless of the form they may take- into light. Conquerors. Unbreakable. The strongest steel.

Still, may 2022 be gentler on us than 2021 has been. COVID, stop mutating biko, give us a break already! Whatever your positive aspirations for 2022 are, dear friends, may they come to fruition. I wish you a year filled with love, hope, friendship and joy. May you never stop dreaming. May you always find help when you need it, a listening ear when you’re burdened, a light to guide you home when you get lost.

Finally, once a year, I write a poem for the Christmas cards that my family and I send out. It’s one of the few times I get over my fear of tackling poetry and try to write something meaningful and poetic.  I’d like to share this year’s piece with you in the hope that its message touches you:

Bury your regrets-

Like seeds in the ground

They will sprout new forms

Gather your joys-

Warm memories are made of those

When nights get too dark you cannot see-

 Remember:

Dawn always cracks open

A finger of hope-

A ray of light

That is the miracle of life

My dear people, Happy New Year! Celebrate responsibly. Drink. Eat. Be merry.

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