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Finding the right words as 2020 fades away

In new turbulent waters, we discovered something about ourselves, about our priorities, about what is truly meaningful and what it means to survive.

Welcome to a new day!

That’s what I imagine myself saying as I rise from bed on Jan. 1, 2021. I want to believe that the world I wake up to in the new year will feel different, filled with sunshine and hope and rejuvenation — that 2020 will fade away like a bad dream.

“Well, that was weird,” I imagine us saying. Smiling. Shaking our heads in disbelief. As we finally emerge from our pajamas, tossing aside our cloth masks and hand sanitizers. We will hug each other tentatively as we whisper into one another’s ears, “It was all just a dream, right?”

Only it wasn’t.

The year 2020 was a gut-wrenching, soul-crushing series of disappointments and tragedies. And the residual effects of that year will linger well into 2021 and beyond. We will have to face the fact that we have lost so many of our friends and family, missed so many celebrations, put so many dreams on hold.

I think most of us will agree that, as a whole, 2020 was a bust. But is that all it was? If we are honest with ourselves, we would probably have to say no. We were thrust into uncharted territory in our lives, for sure, with things we once took for granted suddenly denied. But in those new turbulent waters, we discovered something too — about ourselves, about our priorities, about what is truly meaningful and what it means to survive.

Some of the things I learned in 2020 I don’t have a name for. I discovered sides to myself that I didn’t know existed. I didn’t accomplish as much as I thought I would with so much more time on my hands, but what I did achieve was a deeper understanding of who I am and what I’m made of.

One of the things I learned is how limited the English language is in describing some of the feelings I unearthed in the darkest days of a global pandemic. So I looked to other cultures for words that feel more relevant to the 2020 experience. Here is some of the new vocabulary I learned:

Mysa (Swedish) To engage in an activity that is comfortable and pleasurable, especially at home, being content and cozy.

Mizpah (Hebrew) The deep emotional bond between people, especially those separated by distance or death.

Fika (Swedish) A moment to slow down and appreciate the good things in life, usually accompanied by sweet baked goods and coffee.

Apnapan (Hindi) Having a quality where you accept people, think of them as your own, take care of the ones you love — not for anything in return.

Tsundoku (Japanese) The act of acquiring books that then pile up, often unread, in one’s home.

Merak (Serbian) A feeling of bliss and the sense of oneness with the universe that comes from the simplest of pleasures, the pursuit of small, daily pleasures that all add up to a great sense of happiness and fulfillment.

Fernweh (German) An ache for distant places; missing places you’ve never been: Craving for travel.

Anam Cara (Gaelic) A person with whom you can share your deepest thoughts, feelings, and dreams with, your soul friend.

Lagom (Swedish) Being in perfect balance; just the right amount; not too much, not too little.

Duende (Spanish) The mysterious power of art to deeply move a person.

Ukiyo (Japanese) Living in the moment, detached from the bothers of life: The floating world.

Metanoia (Greek) The journey of changing one’s mind, heart, self, or way of life: Spiritual conversion.

Although I have learned a lot about myself during this time of isolation from the outside world, I also discovered a few words that describe the life I look forward to experiencing again someday:

Flaneur (French) A person who strolls the city in order to experience it: Deliberately aimless.

Feierabend (German) Literally “evening celebration”; the festive mood that can arrive at the end of a working day.

Sobremesa (Spanish) When the food has finished, but the conversation is still flowing, so you hang out, talk, laugh, cry, connect and spend time together.

Desbundar (Portuguese) Shedding one’s inhibitions in having fun.

Samar (Arabic) Staying up late and having conversations with friends or family.

And here is the one I wish to return to most of all:

Piliriqatigiinniq (Inuit) Togetherness, community spirit, working together for the common good.

Here’s to 2021. May we learn from the past and bring a better version of ourselves into the future.


Sheri Smith
Sheri Smith
Sheri Smith, of Scottsdale, is a freelance writer and mother of two.



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