We made it, guys. It’s the last day of 2020.

What were your thoughts exactly a year ago, on the last day of 2019? Were you busy and flustered, looking forward to a break? Or were you happy and hopeful, making plans for the new year?

Whatever you had planned, I’m pretty certain that 2020 didn’t pan out as you’d expected.

To be honest, I don’t think any of us expected 2020 to turn out the way it did.

We have gone through some of the most uncertain times of our lives, and for many of us, the gloom hasn’t yet lifted.

But the darkest times make the glimpses of light even brighter. And even as we struggled through Covid-19 fears over our health, our families, our jobs and our futures, we found a new resilience within ourselves, among our loved ones and with our fellow Singaporeans.

We have told many of your stories right here on The Pride.

Your story of a special-needs boy who received an unexpected act of kindness from a hawker. Your story of a young cancer survivor who worked two jobs while studying because his parents lost their jobs during the circuit breaker. Your story of an expatriate couple who helped a girl get to her PSLE paper on time.

Through those stories, we have met the Singaporean who quit his job to sell second-hand books to set up schools in Tibet. We have found beauty in seeing who we truly are. And we have heard songs of hope to encourage others in the frontline, and ourselves in our depression.

We have read of the many many people here who have shown innumerate acts of kindness to the elderly, the young, the needy, the foreigner among us. And from the most unexpected places too.

The stories keep coming. And the stories keep us going.

During National Day, while worries of Covid were still high, we couldn’t have a National Day celebration at the Padang, so the fireworks went to the heartlands.

I remember standing shoulder to shoulder (one metre apart!) with other masked residents in Bishan where I live, watching the bursts of light blossom behind the silhouette of a nearby condominium. The crowd was oddly quiet, with just the occasional giggle and ohhh coming from the children.

It was a shared experience with strangers that left me proud to be Singaporean. That reminded me that in the darkest times, there is light. And there are other people in the twilight, standing in solidarity with you.

We aren’t alone. Even in the darkness. And that’s my takeaway from 2020.

Here are some of the thoughts from the rest of us at The Pride for the past year.

Faith Lee:

“Every sunset brings the promise of a new dawn”- Ralph Waldo Emerson. Taken during an
evening jog. Image source: Faith Lee

In 2020, I’ve learnt that it’s okay to ask for help.

I’ve always struggled to ask and accept help from others, but I’ve learnt that it’s okay to do both.

I’ve learnt to slow down and use the “off-switch”.

I used to think that being busy with work and taking on many new projects was a badge of honour, but Covid-19 has forced me to see that there are so much more important things in life than what is happening on social media or in my work.

I’ve learnt to treasure those around me.

Being forced to stay home most of this year, with gatherings limited to five people, I’ve learnt to make the most of what I have and to treasure the time spent with loved ones. This is for me, the biggest blessing from the year.

Serene Leong:

A promise of hope. Taken from my window after a brief thunderstorm on Dec 3. Image source: Serene Leong

2020 has been a perpetual downpour. The kind that soaks you to the bone and leaves you with soggy shoes and wet hair that sticks to your skin. It’s uncomfortable, it’s annoying, and it’s exhausting.

But 2020 has also taught me to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Covid cannot rain on your parade if you choose not to let it.

I’ve learnt to be grateful, and to empathise with those who have it much worse than I do.

I’ve learnt that we are resilient, that we can find ways to overcome, whether it be through creating a neighbourhood buddy system to look out for the vulnerable or reaching out to migrant workers in forgotten dorms.

I’ve learnt that Singaporeans do care for each other, and that together, we are stronger.

I’ve learnt that a simple phone call or hug can mean so much.

Mirta Syazanna:

Image source: M Syazanna

I’ve learnt this year that life is unpredictable. One day, we’re rushing to catch the bus to work at 8am; the next, we’re spilling milk on our laptops while eating breakfast at home.

Change is uncomfortable, but we have to learn to be comfortable with the uncomfortable because that’s when we grow.

Working from home, I got more time to watch my daughters grow right before my eyes. I’ve also had energy for my illustrations, which I previously ignored because I was too tired after work to look at another screen.

I’ve learnt that good neighbours are important. When we could not meet friends or relatives for Hari Raya, neighbours provided the human touch, even if it were only for short moments along corridors. Since Covid-19, my neighbours have always been the first to celebrate our birthdays with cakes or special food deliveries.

In spite of the pandemic, I am thankful for 2020. Though it was uncomfortable at the beginning, it allowed me to count my blessings and make time for the people and the things that I love.

Karun S’baram:

We need to be ready. Doing right for the greater good starts with one person: You. Image source: Karun S’baram

What I have taken away for 2020?

Adapt, Improvise and Overcome: The unofficial slogan of the US Marine Corps.

This is what 2020 means for me.

Life had to continue. We went WFH when we could not go back to the office – and tasks and duties were fulfilled. Students did HBL and completed their curriculum. Companies had to pivot their business model. Some not only survived but thrived.

I realised that we cannot think in a linear fashion. Aside from being grateful of what we have, appreciative of the little things and being resilient and united, we need to be dynamic and fluid.

We need to be future-proof, now more than ever.

Chee Wenqi:

When you wake up each morning, you can choose to be happy or sad. Just remember that a
smile is the light in your window. Image source: Chee Wenqi

Dear 2020,

You caught me by surprise. Not just with the coronavirus but also how you’ve helped me understand my life better.

I see now that less is more and that I can live simply without much. As I spend more time at home, I understand my family better, and realise how my parents are getting older and how to best prepare to care for them.

You’ve changed how we live. I have grown to enjoy working from home – how it saves time and money and gives me greater flexibility.

You’ve allowed me to pick up new skills. I do my own workouts at home now and prepare home-cooked food. I’ve learnt the importance of checking in with people and have come to appreciate how to give gifts more often, especially through deliveries!

You’ve reminded me to make the best value of my spending. I am more conscious of what I spend on and how I spend it, making my dollar stretch not just for myself but everyone.

Also, you got us to see how the online space is for anyone – to start our entrepreneurial dreams and to support each other as a community.

Yes, 2020 caught us off guard. But because of this, I have come to see that every one of us is adaptable and can still be our best for a better world.

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Alena Yeo:

With my friends (I’m on the far left) in simpler, more carefree times. Image source: Alena Yeo

2020 has made me realise how much of an introvert I am.

During the circuit breaker, I was more than happy to stay home. I was glad that I didn’t have to go to school and interact with people outside.

We live in a world of extroverts. Staying in for two months made me realise how much I loved being with myself and having no one to please but myself.

I often look back on secondary school days and wish to go back to see the same people five days a week. That thought didn’t gel with the fact that I find it such a chore to work with some people and that I prefer to work alone.

Then it hit me. In my life, I have been lucky enough to be surrounded by amazing people. I realised that even though there are many who make me lose faith in the human race, there are just as many people who bring nothing but goodness and joy and hope.

2020 brought me back to my introvert roots but the good people who surround me have made me appreciate having to show my extrovert side from time to time. Life is worth living because of them.

Jamie Wong:

A spice stall in my neighbourhood’s wet market. Migrant workers would normally drop by to shop for spices, but as they were on lockdown the stall was eerily empty. Nevertheless, Oli, the Tamil radio station, would still blare from the radio on top of a corner shelf. Image source: Jamie Wong

2020 is the year I learnt to look at Singapore from a different angle.

I’m always hungry for adventures, and Singapore is the perfect place for it. There are always places that make you feel as if you’ve stepped through a portal to another country or era. There is so much to see: Heritage spots, nature reserves, historical landmarks, and the list goes on.

During the circuit breaker, I sought adventure elsewhere. I was upset that we could only interact through screens, but then I got to connect with some people whom I would not have crossed paths with if not for this pandemic.

While I still tire of communicating with technology, I’m amazed at the plethora of adventures I’ve had online. I attended international events, and made friends too! Every time I say I’m a Singaporean, some of my new friends would nod and reply that we’re a friendly people.

It warms my heart to know that the world sees us as welcoming, regardless of race or religion. Through the pandemic, we’ve seen this empathy and warmth extended to the people on our shores: Our vulnerable local communities, migrant workers, foreign domestic helpers, just to name a few.

I’ve realised that adventures can be had with different peoples of diverse backgrounds too. I hope this empathy and warmth will continue long after the pandemic, which has brought the everyday suffering of some local communities to light.

Ryan Teo:

Image source: Shutterstock/ Irantzu Arbaizagoitia

2020 was a rollercoaster, yet most fulfilling.

Adapting to the new normal was not easy. Lessons and presentations were held in a place meant for me to take a break from them. Staying focused and being productive in an area where I was mostly relaxed took adjusting. My interactions with others became limited to a screen.

Despite this, I discovered silver linings.

Home-based learning allowed me to sleep longer and be more well-rested. I was never late for my classes! I saved on transport as the only travelling I had to do was to my desk. Being at home meant that my family had more time to cook, which saved money. I also met many wonderful people online.

I discovered more about myself – and how to improve – away from the hustle and bustle.

I realised just how lucky I am – to get an education and an internship in a pandemic. Seeing what good people have done to give others hope also warmed my heart.

In 2020, I was able to enjoy the good times, and learn valuable lessons from the bad times. I was able to grow in so many ways, and I’m ready to face the highs and lows that 2021 has in store.

Lianne Ong:

One of the children’s letters that were sent to me. Image source: Lianne Ong

2019 was my busiest ever as a children’s author. But the momentum came to a grinding halt early in 2020, as it did for many others. Workshops and school visits were postponed or cancelled, and book projects vaporised.

2020 turned out to be a year of new experiences and new perspectives. And I’m grateful for them all.

Yes, I stayed home and baked, made dalgona coffee and bubble tea too. I got the hang of conducting a workshop on Zoom, and learnt to edit storytelling videos, as much of my work went online. I took part in virtual choirs (an oxymoron, if you think about it) until novelty became sheer hard work.

During the circuit breaker, I figured kids would be bored at home and invited them to write to me (or to Stacey, one of my fictional characters). I was surprised to receive mail from so many children, some of whom had never actually read my books – I suppose they just wanted to see if they would get a reply!

I was really tickled and warmed by some of the things they told me. It was lovely making connections with kids when I couldn’t see them face to face, and snail mail was a novel way for them to interact with someone else, during a time when lessons were taking place online.

The stories I wrote for The Pride this year gave me opportunities to have conversations with people I would otherwise never have the chance to speak to, on topics way out of my comfort zone.

I learnt about the challenging work of those who help the homeless. I talked to residents at a homeless shelter, all of whom were rough sleepers for several years before. It was humbling to say the least. I felt privileged and slightly incredulous that they would share their life stories with me, a total stranger. Occasionally, I still find myself going back to my notes, to remind myself that “the homeless are not problems to be solved, but people to be loved.”

Conducting interviews virtually is not ideal for making human connections. What do you do when your interviewees break down over Zoom, while they are talking about their work in palliative care? These are people I thought would be hardened from dealing with death on a daily basis. In them, I saw a deep compassion and shed a private tear with them as they mustered up the strength to continue with their work.

Other conversations were much easier. I am not embarrassed to admit that I was waving and cooing at hamsters on Zoom for a story on animal rescue groups. (But if you tell my daughter, I will deny this ever happened. Mummy has been refusing requests to get a pet, you see.)

I am not sure what 2021 will hold. I am eagerly waiting, no, longing, for things to return to normal.

But I’m also happy for what I’ve learnt and gained this year: New experiences, new friends and a new perspective on life.

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Top Image: Solomon Lim