“There is a language only we can hear, there is a world that only we are near, and only we know the song that never dies away.”
As we near the end of 2020, retrospective questions emerge. How do you describe this year? How do you process what we’ve been through? How do you box in the blow? I’m still sifting over my scribbles. As the traditional Christmas editorial deadline and its headline approaches, one noun and a real-life story linger in my mind.
Anemoia. It’s a relatively new word describing ‘nostalgia for a time you’ve never known.’
Some definitions describe it as a ‘nostalgic sense of longing for a past you have never lived.’ Other authors perceive it as a wistful or sentimental yearning ‘for people who look up at the same moon, breathe the same air, feel the same blood in their veins — and live in a completely different world.’
Perhaps 2020 represents a time we never knew. Its days delivered something so far removed from what we envisioned twelve months ago. I feel nostalgic about the year we never had, trips we haven’t made, people we could have met, stories we should have shared.
We have to be happy. We’re alive.
As the peak of the holiday season nears, there will be more than 1.71 million empty chairs at dinner tables around the world — according to Johns Hopkins University, as of December 22 — instead of souls perished in pandemic days they knew tragically well.
I don’t know how to address the grief and void their loved ones go through.
Thirty years ago, while I was in the army, I lost my mother due to nine brain cancer metastases in less than forty days from the initial medical examination to the funeral. I believe I can correlate to sudden, intense sorrow.
Still, I feel Covid-induced anguish is entirely different.
I know departed are in a better place. I hope those who remained will find a way to cope. I pray for 77.7 million patients who fight this menace today.
I think of my 78-year-old father, who is all right, and I am grateful. In the very next moment, I feel remorse, even shame, for there are people who’ll never see their parents, wives, husbands, sisters, brothers, children, cousins, best friends, colleagues again.
How do you deal with such unfolding, whether as a participant or observer?
There’s a sentence in Woody Allen’s movie Midnight in Paris — he received the Academy Award for the best original screenplay that year — which might provide a soothing prelude:
“The artist’s job is not to succumb to despair but to find an antidote for the emptiness of existence.”
And that brings us to the real-life story two different artists told about the other one’s extraordinary, inspirational deed almost a century ago.
A Trip To See Unseen, To Return
Paul Aster, an American novelist, was a guest at the All Things Considered podcast back in 2006. Among other things, he talked about his latest book at the time, The Brooklyn Follies. While chatting with the host, he shared one event from the vanning days of Franz Kafka (1883–1924).
Researching his novel, Aster discovered this story in the book Reminiscences About Kafka, written by Dora Diamant. She was Kafka’s last lover; they lived together until the end of his life.
Seven months before his demise…
The author of Der Process was very sick. Fully aware ‘his time was growing short,’ he used to take daily strolls with Dora in Berlin’s Steglitz Park.
One day, he saw a little girl, maybe three or four years old, crying.
“What’s the problem,” Kafka asked the child as he approached her.
“I lost my doll,” she replied in tears.
“Oh no, no, you didn’t lose your doll. She’s just away on a trip. In fact, she wrote me a letter to tell me so,” the writer replied emphatically.
The girl, disconcerted in her loss, didn’t believe him.
“What are you talking about? Show me the letter,” she insisted.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I left it at home. But if you come back here tomorrow, I’ll read it to you,” Kafka replied, unfazed.
He went back to his apartment and, according to Dora, ‘really struggled to write a plausible entertaining letter from the doll.’ Then, the next day, he met the girl and read her the content.
Like his initial gesture was not remarkable on its own…
Kafka kept it up for three weeks, as Paul Aster tells it. Each day the writer would compose another letter to present tomorrow in the park.
Using the same focus he is renowned for as the author, Kafka created the whole narrative: The doll going on a voyage to see the world, enjoying her adventures, getting married somewhere, off living happily, using the writer as a postman to deliver her letters to the girl.
The child found writings to be adorable. She was comforted; she didn’t miss her toy at all.
Instead, she had a story.
The original, real account expands here into another book and the contextualization empire of potentially fictional storytelling — Kafka and the Travelling Doll, written by Jordi Sierra i Fabra, a Spanish writer who received the National Award for Children’s Literature in 2007 for this work.
(Editor’s note: You couldn’t stop with Aster’s version, could you? You just had to research it further? By the way, I love how Isabel Torner illustrated Fabra’s book. And, in my heart, I feel his version to be truthful.)
By the end of their brief relationship…
Kafka bought a new doll and gave it to the girl. To explain why the toy looked so different from the original, he attached a tinny note: “My travels have changed me.”
Years later, when the child became an adult, she found an additional, hidden letter within the crevice of a replacement doll, now a cherished item. According to Fabra, Kafka wrote her a simple message:
“Everything that you love, you will eventually lose, but in the end, love will return in a different form.”
Terminus of Belonging
Maybe that’s what we all have from 2020: The pervasiveness of uncertainty, adversity, fear, restrictions, and above anything else, loss, as we wait for inspirational push and reinvigorating outcome.
If this were any other editorial than Christmas piece, the place would be perfect for drawing comparisons to emotions each gambler goes through while playing.
But it isn’t.
No gift, no feast, no celebration can replace loved ones to families who lost someone to Covid-19.
Perhaps Kafka’s feat can offer a simple consolation, maybe even inspiration, to share memories and anemoia, even imagination, and to bind them with tears or consternation, awaiting the return of familiar faces and voices in dreams, silence, or the stories we can tell.
And, just as we share iGaming hopes, experiences, learnings, and novelties in this online oasis we have here, we can also share discomfort, pain, struggle, and brand new heavies pandemic year gave us in lockdowns we face.
Indeed, Coronavirus pierced our bubble, showed our way of life is not untouchable, administered lessons about our need for human touch. We’ve lost our habits, expectations, business plans, and revenues just as Kafka’s girl lost her doll.
Our travels through 2020 have changed us.
I begin to realize how social distance might not be the proper term, although I understand political correctness.
By all means, we have to remain physically separated and curb the spread of the virus, but we cannot yield our social belongings to anyone or anything.
Even apart, we are always a part of something or someone.
It’s a question of our relations — not only relationships — in terms of ways we’re all connected with each other, the world, nature, the past, the future. The physical gaps or different worlds that separate us have nothing to with it.
You matter. To her, him, them, me, to us. No matter the distance, we matter together.
Sometimes we see that; other times, we know it, even feel it. Often, we deny it or dismiss it as a fairytale. But regardless of where or who we are, this truth is way older than all of us combined.
Christmas is here to remind us of that.
We strive to belong, whether to our intimate partner or our family, friends, workplace, even the society itself, as we shape the outer urge of our lives. We consider achievements, wealth, power, or popularity as recognition tools and acknowledgment labels.
We seek to belong to an idea we can recognize ourselves in, or a vision we can identify with.
Not as authority or badass, but as individuals who share values and beliefs with a like-minded group of people. This particular prong feeds our inner urge, the core of our determination.
Both realms run parallel as we journey through life. They resemble railroad rails, connected and supported by crossties.
Those perpendicular construction elements, essential to any railroad’s longevity, are made out of our experiences: Like actual builders, we arrive at new pastures, meet an environment, lay down a crosstie, as rails of our life train lead us forward.
We travel. We use those crossties and two rails — urges, needs, events, interactions, you name it — as tracks that transport us toward the terminus, our ending point.
(Editor’s note: Again, if this were any piece other than Christmas one, this would be a great spot to correlate with any situation players face at the casinos. This time, though, we’ll leave those metaphors to you, our readers. For the same reason, this piece is uniquely devoid of links.)
Monorails of Headache Path
The pandemic reminded us about the importance of both rails. For, quite often, we neglect the inner one — which is somewhat understandable: after all, life happens.
It is demanding to advocate meaningness to a person who works sixteen hours to put food on the family’s table — or, perhaps, that’s what the essence of belonging is — just as it’s almost impossible to explain peaceful coexistence to a violent man or bad-tempered woman.
When we forget the core of our dedication, we change the whole railroad construct, its purpose, not to mention consequences.
But why wouldn’t we use monorails?
They are infinitely faster, less expensive, more practical, quicker to construct, don’t need that many switches, easier to maintain, way more proficient. Besides, it’s not always possible to symmetrically align our inner and outer urges; single-rails come in handy in those instances.
So, why there aren’t many more monorails in the world?
Because they are the most sensible option in a very narrow set of circumstances — and those don’t happen often. Therefore, to this day, single-rails are not worth the headache.
Coronavirus challenged this particular angle and explored our monorail blindside with impunity.
Using only the outer rail, we metaphysically deprive ourselves to go far beyond our comprehension, visit places we've never seen, meet what we haven't felt, hear tunes we never sang. This rail does not lead anywhere but toward comfort and security.
“What else is there,” you might wonder.
Well, when monorail meets uncertainty or adversity, it tends to bend, lacking support.
But, strengthened by the inner urge and the core of our determination, jointly, those two parallel rails compensate for all the weights and compromises necessary to intertwine reality with personal needs to belong and necessities to stay true to our values.
The willpower behind such a worldview is an unlimited source each human possesses.
If we think it’s limited, let’s look into 2020: Another lesson it administers is that the grounding halt of one’s resolve is a matter of choice.
Most fundamentally, though…
This year and Covid-19 changed the nature of our crossties.
They no more consist only of our experiences. They consist of us. We became them.
Cross-tied by what we’ve been through — smiles and cries, makings and breakings, treasures and closures, holds and folds — we had to put ourselves beneath the rails of our journey.
In doing so, we sacrificed, we bonded, but we also became our railroad.
It was and still is demanding beyond recognition. Not comfortable, restrictive, hurtful, as the pandemic kept and still keeps declining our vehement or polite requests to stay out of our path.
Whether on purpose or by accident, 2020 gave us something quite valuable, so paramount in return.
It forced us to build parallel rails through the vastness of our vulnerabilities as we bridge abysses of hardship and climb mountains of fears only to roll downhill toward fogs of vagueness.
It required each of us to equally retain and modify our ideals and beliefs, postpone our ideas and visions, and proceed toward pandemic terminus relentlessly.
Guided by the inexhaustible well within us, the unconditional love, railroad of 2020 took us to an extraordinary place.
One where we belong to ourselves.
One Heart, One Soul, One Love
And therein, we realize that's one of barely a couple of needs we have to stay alive, others being water, food, sleep, air.
Only when we belong to ourselves we can belong to anyone, just as Kafka and his writings belonged to that little girl.
Some people call this place home; others call it grace. There are those who deem it a destination, and yes, the list also includes individuals who consider it nonsense.
I named it the terminal.
Not in a fatalistic context, but, on the contrary, as a junction, a station where we truly embark.
Before I arrived at mine — each person has to find his own — I thought I was heading toward the terminus. I was wrong. The place simultaneously serves as an endpoint of unsustainable behavior and a starting point of purposeful belonging to oneself, others, the world, and the universe itself.
For me, the terminal was the place where my journey truly began.
That’s how I rationalize 2020: This year is the humanity terminal.
No matter how it seems, the pandemic touched only our crossties and the outer rail. The inner one, however, remains intact.
We still have many days in us. We nurture pocketful of dreams; we hope, believe, strive. We talk, smile, observe. We think, fast, wait. We still want to begin, to grow up, to get old.
We’re very much alive.
Maybe Covid-19 is the sign — the letter we found as grownups, hidden in crevices of our devices we cherish so much — telling us we have to change, we have to start to live more sustainably or act more responsibly toward nature and other people. Who knows?
Whatever it is, wherever its origins are, I hope, I want to believe Coronavirus did catalyze our metamorphosis — the transformation into a more mature form — just as travels changed Kafka’s doll or as he altered her sorrow into the invigorating experience.
With that in mind…
To all LCB’ers out there, to all the people and patients around the world, to medical workers and our guardians, to departed watching us from above — on behalf of our team, we wish you a Merry Christmas.
And to those with empty chairs at dinner tables, we also pray, may love return to you in a different form. We still look up at the same moon, feel the same blood, live in the same world. You are us; we are you.