In my youthful naivete, I tattooed ‘The best is yet to be’ across my shoulder, a few weeks before I left for my MBA in London. It was a rather impulsive decision. I think I got that tattooed because I wanted to leave India with a lingering thought and emotion. Or maybe because I fondly remember my dad telling me, ‘Grow old with me, the best is yet to be’ on every birthday of his. Or maybe I wanted to believe that I have more depth and thoughtfulness than I do. Or maybe it was my fear, fear of dwelling in the past, of gloating over ‘days that were’ – days of youthful innocence, deep friendships, college corridors, incessant laughter, dreams, and love. I think I never wanted my past to be any more magnificent than my present or my future. I did not want to keep lingering on the ‘best days of my life’ in the past, I wanted to create the better days of my life ahead. I believed that these words would serve as a reminder to stay optimistic and hopeful of all the beauty that lies ahead.
As fate would have it, six months into getting my rather optimistic tattoo, we were met by a pandemic, and it robbed me of so many experiences that ‘best is yet to be’ seemed like a cruel joke. I responded to the pandemic with differently erratic emotional spurs over the months.
I think I started with denial, ‘It’s not that bad. It’ll get better in a few months and life would be back to normal.” Except that it was that bad, even worse and life did not get back to normal…became worse. So, in the months that I was promised the most transformational MBA experience – most engaging classes, parties that go on till 6 AM, and trips all over the world; I was trying to desperately figure out how to use a virtual background on Zoom. Good thing I figured that out though, because the next couple of months, creative Zoom backgrounds on virtual classes were the highlight of my weeks.
I started off by appreciating the silver lining. ‘At least I get to spend more time with family’, ‘I have time to introspect’, ‘I can save money’, ‘I can read all these books that I kept turning down for more socializing options’, ‘My cooking skills notched up quite a bit’, ‘I can finally watch all these Netflix shows without feeling guilty’. Gradually though, I got exhausted from appreciating the silver lining. It became too narrow with every week that passed; a few months into the pandemic, I could no longer see it.
I felt robbed of my MBA experience and was incredibly angry at the circumstances. ‘How egocentric do I have to be to make a global pandemic about my compromised MBA experience?’, I wondered. However, rationalizing seldom helps with assuaging your emotions, so that thought did not help. I missed hugging people, I missed kissing them, I missed seeing views beyond my bedroom and kitchen. I missed not having to be paranoid about infection every living moment of the day. I missed living freely, and I wanted to scream how it is so unfair to take it all away from me in the years that were supposed to be my best years.
I remember laughing at the tragedy of the times on most days. And then there were days that I cried, cried my heart out. I remember a particular email stating that our global business experience, which was essentially a week-long interactive business learning experience in Brazil, got canceled. I remember looking at that email for straight ten minutes and crying. There was nothing extraordinarily sad about that decision from school. In all honesty, it was quite an expected decision. But on some days, you are hinging on an unrealistic hope of things eventually working out, and when that bleak ray of hope is taken away too, you no longer know what to look at for hope. I think I cried so hard because there was too much pent-up anger and grief, waiting to be released at an opportune moment, just so that the emotions do not feel uncalled for.
I think it was after I cried quite a bit and video-called more people than one practically can, watched more Netflix shows than my sleep-schedule allowed, and went on more bad dates than my friends could hear about, that something switched within me. I could, after all the months of cribbing, finally accept and dare I say, appreciate everything the pandemic taught me.
The pandemic taught me so much about grief, about accepting it, and on some days, even appreciating it. I learned to accept my emotions and be grateful for them…even grief. I learned what a privilege it is to be able to experience sadness. I became more comfortable telling people that I do not feel okay. I let go of the pressure to constantly see the brighter side and it made me feel so much lighter, and my emotions so much valid.
I think with acceptance, gratefulness followed the course of emotions. I was able to gradually change my mindset to appreciate my life for all that I still had. I appreciated the privilege of having classes, being able to go for beautiful walks in stunning London, having family and friends…friends who would hug, listen, pick up your call and be there for you, having job prospects, having the opportunity to interact with the most brilliant minds in the world, albeit virtually and most importantly of living in a beautiful home.
I became so much more appreciative of the people in my life. I learned to say ‘I love you’ to more people, more often and more generously. I learned that on some days, the only thing that matters is to be able to open WhatsApp and have two people I can text about how I am feeling. And I have been so incredibly lucky to always have those two people, and on some days, even more. I learned how in the end, it is always the people that make all the difference for me. I learned to value people more than I did. And I learned to remind people how much I love them more often than I usually did. I learned to send those messages and make time for those phone calls.
With the passing months, the pandemic is pretty much still holding strong with the continued lockdown, but I think I have learned to find my happiness in the small progress that I make in life. I have learned that adversity more often than not, gives you incredible strength. Strength that you were not aware of, strength that you probably did not want, but strength that helps you sail through. I learned that life helps us become stronger people when we are least expecting it and sometimes, we do not understand it; but in the end, it almost always makes sense. The lockdown does not seem all that bad on days when you can share it with your most wonderful flatmates, when you have the luxury to go on a walk with your amazing classmate who recommends a book that changes your view on life, when you attend some ridiculous Zoom parties and figure out that you can actually get wasted on virtual parties, when it snows for the first time in a long time in London, and when you meet the most amazing guy on a walking date.
I became more hopeful and happier over these months. I often look down at my tattoo, smile, and think to myself, ‘the best is indeed yet to be…’