Today, I got a text from my gorgeous and relentless mother, who I have now not seen for 12 months and 4 days exactly. She is working on a writing project. Another memoir about her incredible life and experiences. This will be her fourth book—a documenting and chronicling of our family’s history that I am increasingly grateful for, especially now that I have children. She tells me this is the hardest one to pen so far, because it is also the political history of Sierra Leone, chronicling my parents’ transition from public servants and educators/academics into my father’s political career. As providence would have it, this was also in the era leading up to one of the worst times in Sierra Leone’s history, that climaxed into civil war throughout the 90s.
My mother asked us in our family WhatsApp chat earlier in December to send her some notes about what it was like growing up in the context of a political home in that era. I ignored her first message. Every week we have talked since then, she casually mentions the request. I equally, casually, promised to send her something…and didn’t…the busyness of December being a perfect excuse on each subsequent call for why I had not yet delivered on my promise. Today, her text was to fact check some of her dates that line up with some of my own milestones. What year did I start university? What year did I leave Sierra Leone. The first time? The second time? That told me two things. My mother is spending New Year’s Eve finishing the first draft of her fourth book and she will soon follow-up that text with another casual, and relentless request for my paragraph. So I sighed, rolled out of bed, fired up my laptop and started writing.
By the end of writing two pages, I was blessing my mother. I bless her, for the most poignant reflection of why 2020 will be memorable, not because of all the reasons we are using it as a curse word, but because of what we have learned and will cherish, and only fully realize in hindsight. I know this, because I realized today that I have been here before.
This week, I have been on so many calls where I have joined in the lament of “what a strange Christmas and end of year this has been!” That lament is valid. It is worth our while to mourn all we have lost in 2020, so we can cherish what we will regain, like hugs and kisses and connecting (annoyance and all!) with all the family and relatives we have not been able to see this year. I had even decided not to write a year-end blog—because what could I write at the end of this year that wouldn’t seem trite? This morning, my husband and I woke up talking about what we will do today and how strange this all seems. He remarked: “perhaps, those Christmases during the Sierra Leone coup and war years are the only other times that have felt this strange.” We chatted about that, but it still didn’t hit me. Then I read my mom’s text, sighed, and rolled out of bed.
I wrote my general response to what it was like growing up with my parents, then I went back to her earlier message with the request. I had answered all her questions in what I had written except for this one: What was your most memorable or cherished experience? I was surprised to feel my chest tighten and my eyes immediately water. Because my most cherished memories with my parents in the context of our political home, comes from a time when we were also in lock down, at home. My father, for political reasons, was placed under house arrest, so while we were free to come and go, we generally stayed close to home or came back early from wherever we had gone to be with him. For a whole year. I remember resenting that lock down. I remember being angry at him for choosing politics and placing all of us in this situation. I remember it as a drag. The reason I didn’t get to go out and stay at parties till late. And today, for the first time, I realized that it ranked first in my most cherished memories with my parents, especially my Dad. Because he was forced to be still and to be home. I wrote about this before when I shared this post on his 20th Memorial Day (one of my most read blogs). But what I didn’t write then was that the tea times I referenced all happened during his time under house arrest.
Just yesterday evening, I was brainstorming with a dear colleague and fellow co-editor for the Handbook of Transformation we are working on. We talked for a while about how transformation is often realized in hindsight, in 20/20. So when we look at 2020 in hindsight like I just did that house arrest year, I hope it holds some of our most cherished moments of the time we cocooned just with our households. I hope we see the moment our world fundamentally changed for the better. I hope we see how the pain and loss of 2020 has taught us to have more compassion and empathy for those who are always alone and lonely at Christmas—stuck in war zones with only survival, not celebration on their minds; too sick to socialize; too poor to afford the bounty they can see, hear and smelt around them; have lost family and loved ones and can’t bear to celebrate. I hope we see a 2020 that helped our world bounce forward to a better normal where we took the best of our past and left behind the mess that has been suffocating instead of strengthening our humanity. I hope 2020 looks not just like the Grinch who stole Christmas, but like the year that also called us to be transformed for generations. And most of all, whether you had a household to cocoon with and/or filled the time with phone and zoom calls, I hope that all of us, and our children, remember this as one of our most cherished holiday seasons ever—because we were forced to be still, and were home alone, together.