How would you describe 2020 in one word? Mine has been a roller coaster. Have you travelled across a bridge, so far above the waters, but you still feel the weight of the water beneath you? That is how I have felt at times, pacing through the muddy waters so that I may step onto land, again. I have found hope in the dimmest places, love in the arms of despair, I have laughed and cried at times that I should not. I have flown and soared with my wings tied. I have grown this year but not as tall as I hoped to. Dear 2021, read this aloud, along with me.

The opening of 2020 found me in London, on a shopping spree. Of, course I was not shopping for myself. There is an odd expectation, that when one stays or travels to the west, they ought to return with gifts and other items for their loved ones back home. While that is a genuine gesture of fondness, this notion glorifies western products in an unusual way. It certainly wasn’t the same expectation when I traveled within East Africa.

There I was in the middle of Oxford Street- seemingly small in the midst of tall buildings filled with stores of almost every identifiable brand. Crowded with people, shoulder to shoulder. I carried three paper bags filled clothes, colognes, shoes, bottles and books. I had succumbed to society’s, or rather my family’s expectations.

As I walked back to my residence, the warm street lights glistened upon my face. I was shaking under the piles of wool that laced my jacket, because of the gloomy winter. This was my last stroll under those skies as Uganda beckoned. I hadn’t seen my family (at least not physically since 2018). My biggest relief however, was that I had bought something for everyone- even if I was to find a random unannounced visitor at home, I had  purchased  extra ‘cheap’ accessories as insurance.  2019 had been a great year, I had finished a master’s degree from the University of Oxford and had worked with an international law firm in London! Therefore, when 2020 began I was excited to go to Kampala, to see the year that lay ahead.

After checking in my luggage, I bid farewell, to Jonathan, who hosted me in London and had been kind enough to drive me to Heathrow International Airport. I held my luggage in the departure lounge staring up ahead at the flight display board. The lounge was heavy with thoughts that lingered in everyone’s head, creating a sense of isolation. Even though we were many, each one on their own paths. I was about to journey across oceans, from one continent to another. Change and adjustment are pillars in the structure of life.

Finally, my flight no EK004 flickered on the departure board signaling, ‘boarding.’ I picked up my hand bag and began to move to the gate.  My phone lit up with a green notification. A long-term family friend had sent me a WhatsApp message.  ‘Safe travels, hope Iran doesn’t shoot down your plane.’  This made me unusually tense and reinforced my fears about air travel. This anxiety gave me an insight (prophetically I guess) into what 2020 might offer. We arrived safely at Entebbe and I was greeted by the warmth and love of family, who were relieved to hug me for the first time since 2018. But just as the New year had begun, the Corona virus had taken bigger strides. As I had just settled in Kampala, the Government announced a total lock down with restricted movements that forced me to rethink my own priorities. I had just left a gruesome winter only to find a darker winter in the COVID-19 pandemic.

From weeks in quarantine, this year has taught me the importance of companionship and family. I have reconsidered the core reasons why I exist. We have struggled to breathe this year, had to adjust to wearing masks all the time. I needed to find peace, meaning and contentment. With lost relatives, friends and differed opportunities for international experience. It had begun looking grim. I used most of the time to dance, write and read. This was my own way of coping. It led me to reflect deeply on John Donne’s 400-year-old words, ‘No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.’  Isolation taught me many lessons. When you spend time alone, you are forced to introspect about what really matters. A close relative got COVID-19, the possibility of losing them haunted me. It made me contemplate about the significance of the bonds we create with in our communities

More than ever before, there were more marriages in this calendar year. Was it because people needed company through this turbulence? Justice Kennedy writes that, ‘Marriage responds to the universal fear that a lonely person might call out only to find no one there. It offers the hope of companionship and understanding and assurance that while both still live, there will be someone to care for the other.’ Or, it was simply because COVID-19 gave couples an excuse to cut down on wedding costs by inviting only a handful of people. We may never know why. Regardless, staying within walls without waking up to a usual routine- of going to school, going to office and having day out in the sun, surely can drive anyone crazy.

With such few options, it drew most towards togetherness.  My law school roommate found his partner. On boxing day, he got married. He is one of the quietest and most reflective people I know. In his usually few words, he had defined love the way he understood it.  ‘To find someone to sail life with.’ Attending socially distanced marriages gave room for more intimacy with my thoughts. Everyone’s clock starts running down the moment they are born and every individual’s definition of living is different. Live in what makes you alive and find what sheds light through your fear.

We have been riddled with the pain from the loss of loved ones, the joy of new marriages, the anxiety from self-diagnosis of mild flue as Coronavirus. I had a six-inch swab pushed down my nose in to the cavity-twice- for the COVID-19 test. That sums up how uncomfortable the year has been, but tests were a small price to pay to save more lives.

2020 has unsettled us. It has forced us to think about the meaning of life, and what contentment is.  Even when I finished my master’s degree, a long sought-after qualification-  although I was a pleased with my accomplishment, I did not find contentment. I still aspire to achieve other things. Does this search ever end?

Joe Gardner, a character in Disney’s latest animation, ‘Soul’ perhaps reflects this. A music teacher who long sought a breakthrough in his music career. He went from audition to audition. He was told that he didn’t have what they were looking for. Until he snatched up an opportunity to play as part of a quartet for a famous artist. After he’d played his soul out on the piano (arguably his best performance). He asked himself, ‘what next?’ He expected to find contentment and approval in playing for the famous artist.  The excitement and smile on his face grew dimmer after.  While an animation isn’t the most ideal place to draw wisdom from, the anecdote illustrates our endless search for meaning. Joe, eventually found that he derived purpose in teaching and helping others, despite having had this preconceived bias that playing music at the highest level would make him content.

We are always searching for meaning- in our jobs, our relationships, our education, our family, our beliefs, our hobbies and our work. Yet, this year made it more difficult for us to do most of these things.

C.S. Lewis, one of my favourite authors, writes about satisfaction in human nature. Lewis speaks of ‘a desire which no natural happiness will satisfy’, ‘a desire, still wandering and uncertain of its object and still largely unable to see that object in the direction where it really lies’. He said, ‘There is something self-defeating about human desire, in that what is desired, when achieved, seems to leave the desire unsatisfied.’ 2020 has led me to appreciate my family and loved ones especially because COVID-19 reminded me of the frailty of human life and how inconsequential we can be without breath. But, Lewis differs on this view, especially regarding the importance personal relationships in the search for satisfaction and meaning.

He says, ‘In love, perhaps the deepest human relationship of all, we encounter the strange longing to lose ourselves in another—to enter into a relationship which paradoxically simultaneously heightens and obliterates our own identity. Yet even love, which seems to offer all, delivers less than it seems to promise. Somehow in personal relationships there is to be found a bittersweet longing—something which comes through the relationship, but is not actually in that relationship.’ The search is endless and whatever we are pursuing eludes us. As we end this year, it is a moment for us to think about what really matters. What gets us up in the cold morning?  What keeps us going every day? What drives us?

Every 31st of December, nothing significantly changes at the stroke of midnight but, we are told to have optimism and hope in the promise of new beginnings, stepping forward from the past and taking hold of the future.  I hope that in 2021 we can find more meaning, not just in the switching of calendars, but closer to our own purposes. Let us understand more about what really matters or who really matters in 2021.

I wish you a happy 2021.

  • Brenda Namulindwa
    Posted at 16:09h, 31 December Reply

    Yes Joel this was a nice message and a true definition of 2020.
    Always treasure you this year and more years to come.

    Happy new year too

    • Joel Basoga
      Posted at 16:23h, 31 December Reply

      Thanks Brenda for the kind words. Thanks for taking the time to read and Happy new year to you too!

  • Adrian
    Posted at 16:13h, 31 December Reply

    Surely, 2020 was a year of reflecting on what matters. Choosing wisely among the crowd.
    Thank you Joel

    • Joel Basoga
      Posted at 16:23h, 31 December Reply

      Thanks, Adrian. I agree, it entailed choosing wisely among the crowd.

    • Juan Emmanuela
      Posted at 17:25h, 31 December Reply

      This is very thought awakening. Thank you Joel.

      • Joel Basoga
        Posted at 17:33h, 31 December Reply

        Thanks Emmanuela. I am glad that this has given you something to ponder about. You are welcome.

      • Timothy Kajja
        Posted at 18:12h, 01 January Reply

        This a lovely and timely piece.

        Thanks Jeol & happy new year!

        • Joel Basoga
          Posted at 19:08h, 01 January Reply

          Thanks, Timothy for these kind words. You are welcome. Happy New year!

  • Nuwabine Clare pelth
    Posted at 17:30h, 31 December Reply

    Nice piece Joel 2020 well described,it has really been a hard year it has taught us to thrive regardless of the situation,
    cheers we have made it this far.
    Happy New year.

    • Joel Basoga
      Posted at 17:34h, 31 December Reply

      Thanks Clare. Yes, it has been an odd year. It is great that we have thrived. Happy New Year to you too.

  • Hannah
    Posted at 17:41h, 31 December Reply

    Thank you so much for this amazing read. And yes, nothing really changes on December 31st but we only pray and hope that people get closer to discovering their purpose.

    • Joel Basoga
      Posted at 17:59h, 31 December Reply

      Thanks, Hannah for these kind words and for taking the time to read. We can only hope that everyone draws closer to discovering their purpose in the new year.

      • Belinda Letasi
        Posted at 18:12h, 31 December Reply

        This is truly interesting..
        You have really defined how terrifying and hard this year has been. Thank you for sharing this. Happy new year

        • Joel Basoga
          Posted at 18:29h, 31 December Reply

          Thanks, Belinda. Yes, its been an odd year that has given us a lot to think about. You are welcome. Happy New Year to you too!

  • Jackie Dorothy
    Posted at 17:55h, 31 December Reply

    Joel, this has spoken volumes into the lives of those that have the mind to reflect. I personally thought 2020 gave me the best meaning in making the best out of my family. But the self assessment continues. Thank you.

    • Joel Basoga
      Posted at 18:25h, 31 December Reply

      Thank you Jackie. I am happy to hear that this blog has spoken to you and given you the opportunity to reflect. Yes, the assessment continues.

  • Kiplangat Nathan
    Posted at 18:50h, 31 December Reply

    ” Hope IRAN does not shoot down your plane.” That statement had me laughing like crazy. This a wonderful write up Joel. I like the fact that you cited C.S Lewis for he is also one of my favorite writers.
    I wish you the very best for the new year and I look forward to more of these writings. God bless.

    • Joel Basoga
      Posted at 18:55h, 31 December Reply

      Thanks, Nathan for these kind words. Honestly, I was traumatized by his comment. I had to gather so much confidence just to board the aeroplane. I am happy to hear that you are a great admirer of C.S. Lewis too. Happy New Year to you too, Nathan!

  • Jacinta Babirye
    Posted at 19:02h, 31 December Reply

    2020 was a trying year for all of us glad we made it through. Thank you Joel for this piece.

    • Joel Basoga
      Posted at 19:16h, 31 December Reply

      You are welcome, Jacinta. Glad that we have made it through.

  • Alice Kathleen
    Posted at 19:40h, 31 December Reply

    Thank you so much for this amazing read.I entirely agree that 2020 taught us the importance of bonds in our lives.Despite the fact that lot’s of our lives were drastically affected this year,may we carry hope that 2021 will be a better year for us all.

    • Joel Basoga
      Posted at 19:45h, 31 December Reply

      You are welcome, Alice. Yes- bonds, community and relationships are very important. I agree, let us carry on with hope in 2021. Thanks for the kind words.

      • Verity
        Posted at 21:15h, 31 December Reply

        Thank you for this..It was timely..I have been blessed..What a great way to start my year..
        Happy new Year ?

        • Joel Basoga
          Posted at 21:28h, 31 December Reply

          Thanks Maggie. Glad to hear that this was timely. Happy new year to you too.

  • karagwarebecca@gmail.com
    Posted at 20:04h, 31 December Reply

    I got teary while reading this. I don’t even know why. Thank you, Joel for this piece.

    • Joel Basoga
      Posted at 20:13h, 31 December Reply

      I understand when you say it got you teary. It has been a sentimental year, characterized by loss of opportunities and loved ones. I am glad that you could relate to it, Rebecca. You are welcome.

      • Annastazia
        Posted at 22:21h, 31 December Reply

        Interesting read Joel. It certainly got me thinking and inspired me. Wishing you a happy 2021.

        • Joel Basoga
          Posted at 22:33h, 31 December Reply

          Thanks, Annastazia. I am glad that this inspired you and gave you something to think about. Happy New Year to you too.

  • Shaban Kitimbo
    Posted at 05:32h, 01 January Reply

    Happy new year 2021 Joel, thank you for this intellectually stimulating piece of writing!
    In a nutshell, 2020 has been a year of great life lessons, coupled with a series of fascinating experiences. I have learnt to appreciate and support the people around me in whatever way possible no matter what situation life presents. In one way or another they end up affecting us

    • Joel Basoga
      Posted at 09:21h, 01 January Reply

      Thank you Shaban. Yes, there were a number of fascinating experiences in 2020 and I agree, the support we receive from one another is crucial. Thanks for taking the time to read and for these kind words.

  • Makawa Joseph Gilbert
    Posted at 14:36h, 01 January Reply

    Nice Read Joel!
    Navigating through the shackles of Iran, the devastations brought about by COVID-19 and conducting the zoom webinars ,to mention but a few leaves a trail of much optimism,resolute and strength to take on 2021.

    Happy new year too.

    • Joel Basoga
      Posted at 14:43h, 01 January Reply

      Thanks Gilbert. Yes, so much room for optimism and strength as we begin 2021. Thanks Gilbert for these kind words. Happy New Year!

  • Chemonges Joel
    Posted at 17:56h, 01 January Reply

    And in the search for what truly matters, let’s make every moment count ✊?

    • Joel Basoga
      Posted at 19:07h, 01 January Reply

      Thanks, Joel. Yes, the search continues.

  • Martha Nante
    Posted at 20:16h, 01 January Reply

    Such a relatable read. You write so well Joel. Happy 2021, I hope this year makes it possible for us to continue with the insatiable and endless search of what’s next regardless of our previous accomplishments.

    • Joel Basoga
      Posted at 21:16h, 01 January Reply

      Thanks, Martha. I am glad that you could relate to this. I appreciate the kind words. Amen to the search for meaning. Happy 2021, Martha.

      • Opolot John
        Posted at 10:58h, 03 January Reply

        My law school room mate found his partner. On boxing day, he got married. He is one of the quietest and most reflective people I know. In his usually few words, he had defined love the way he understood it .’To find someone to sail life with’.
        Congratulations my brother Paul, you have once more set the compass direction straight. The direction I will always work hard to follow.
        Joel, your such an inspiration to me I must confess, may the good Lord keep moulding and guiding you in his favor and love. Happy new year brothers ??

        • Joel Basoga
          Posted at 15:44h, 03 January Reply

          Thanks John, for these kind words. Amen.

          I’ll forward this comment to him.

          Let us get in touch (info@joelbasoga.com)

          Happy New Year to you too!

  • Malaika Tabby
    Posted at 21:26h, 01 January Reply

    “Change and adjustment are pillars in the structure of life.” Well said!

    Happy new year to you too?

    • Joel Basoga
      Posted at 22:33h, 01 January Reply

      Thank you Tabby. Happy New Year!

  • Buyinza Tomathy
    Posted at 21:26h, 02 January Reply

    2020 indeed helped us re-connect with family and friends.

    Personally i think human desire is endless. It’s a driving force that we all need in order to cope up with life or else one might lose oneself in the process. At the end of the day, your desires tame your goals in life.

    Thank you Joel.
    I hope to read more of your articles this year, happy new year! Happy 2020 + 1

    • Joel Basoga
      Posted at 15:38h, 03 January Reply

      Thanks Tomathy. I am glad that we learnt similar lessons from from 2020. Yes, human desire is endless, but how can we then find contentment in our lives?

      You are welcome and thanks for these kind words. I will write more regularly.

  • Rebecca Babirye
    Posted at 09:00h, 05 January Reply

    Thank you Joel for such insight. Woah! We achieved this much with clipped wings; if we take the lessons into 2021, growth is inevitable. Looking forward to more articles!

    • Joel Basoga
      Posted at 22:09h, 05 January Reply

      You are welcome, Rebecca. I agree, growth is inevitable. I will write more. Thanks.

  • Pauline
    Posted at 20:53h, 07 January Reply

    It is such an interesting read Joel.
    2020 was indeed a rollercoaster. None the less it created an opportunity for the majority to rethink and reflect on their aspirations in life and family.

    • Joel Basoga
      Posted at 21:08h, 10 January Reply

      Thanks Pauline for these kind words. I agree, it gave us an opportunity to rethink and reflect on our aspirations.

  • Rebecca Kabagimu
    Posted at 22:54h, 22 January Reply

    I’m late to read this but oh well, better late than never I guess. This came in the right time just as I’m also searching for my purpose and meaning in life and always striving to have more.
    Great read Joel ?

    • Joel Basoga
      Posted at 22:55h, 24 January Reply

      Thanks, Rebecca. Yes, are always striving to be better.

  • Leah
    Posted at 09:06h, 02 February Reply

    Reading this made me realise i have so much to be gratefulful for. Thank you Joel.

    • Joel Basoga
      Posted at 09:20h, 02 February Reply

      Thank you for these kind words, Leah.

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