I had a plan. In fact, I always have a plan. On scraps of paper, in my notebooks, and in memos on my phone, I write down my years at a glance. 2020 was the year I would head south to traverse the unknown frontiers of Central and South America. I’d eventually make my way to Israel, and Eastern Europe, then celebrate Christmas in England.
Into the unknown – that was my personal theme of 2020. I was supposed to be getting up close and personal with wildlife in the Amazon, climbing volcanoes, immersing myself in new cultures and languages. At this very moment, I would be preparing to celebrate my birthday in Argentina with wine and steak.
How quickly things changed.
Ironically, I found myself physically thrust into the very opposite of situations. There is nothing unknown about where I am. Nestled in the comforting cocoon of my childhood home, I find myself surrounded by familiarity. I know every nook and cranny of this house: the creak of the floorboards, the sound of the coffee machine in the morning, the way the light hits the house at sundown.
It was a sharp transition. One minute, I was sitting by a swimming pool, drinking orange juice freshly squeezed from the trees that surrounded me; the next, I was on a roundabout flight home, wearing a mask and rubbing my hands with the sanitizer Manuela had given me.
On my first morning, I experienced that same disorientation people usually encounter upon waking up in a new place, unable to immediately remember where I was. But then I recognized the lumpy topography of my mattress, heard the familiar voices of my parents in the kitchen, and realized oh yes, I’m home.
What a strange place to find yourself unexpectedly. It had only been two and a half months since I left but it somehow felt longer. There were my Christmas presents that I carefully placed in a cupboard to enjoy when I returned. There were my unread books I had promised to read when I was back. And there were the few forgotten items, still lying in the corner of my room where I had left them, because there was simply no space for them in my already stuffed backpack.
The days started and ended, started and ended. As I settled into the “new normal,” I had a sudden realization. Even though I’m home, I’m more submerged in the unknown than I ever was on my travels. My carefully derived plans were discarded. My life, very noticeably, interrupted. I wasn’t even on the right continent anymore.
I felt much like Claire in Outlander when she finds herself unexpectedly flung into a different era, without warning or time to prepare. I was wearing the wrong clothes. (March in Vancouver is very different from March in Colombia). Mosquito bites still covered my legs. I was still tanned and freckled, with bits of sand still obstinately clinging to my clothes, my bags, the pages of my journal.
You see, instead of diving headfirst into new cities or the clear blue waters of the Caribbean coast, I find myself navigating an unknown that’s wholly different than what I expected. It’s a chaotic unknown, an unknown mingled with uncertainty. Unknown that I have no control over.
The unknown has always had a tendency to both frighten me and fuel me. In one sense, I enjoy the thrill of unexpected adventures and freedom from the monotony of routine. At the same time, I cling to my well made plans and the sense of direction and purpose they give me.
The personal unknown that I’m experiencing now consists of asking myself questions I don’t know the answers to. When will I be able to jump on a plane again? When will I see Ed again? When will my life get back on track?
I still get calendar notifications every few days, alerting me of cities I would be in if life had carried on as usual. Every pop-up hits me with a dull thud, a sort of tender ache. Memories of the beginning of the year seem more and more like a dream, burying themselves in the attics of my mind, fading away just like my tan.
I guess 2020 has proven to be a year of the unknown after all. Not just for me, but for the whole world. That’s a realization that’s both comforting and saddening. But onwards we trudge, armed with hope, face masks, and a spare supply of hand sanitizers, as we make our way into the unknown together.