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Words capture stories of 2023: Quotes stave off loneliness amid year of war, chaos and beauty

By Associated Press
Published: December 23, 2023, 6:04am
7 Photos
A man carries the body of an earthquake victim Feb.
A man carries the body of an earthquake victim Feb. 6 in the Besnia village near the Turkish border, Idlib province, Syria. Photo Gallery

To feel 2023 is to listen closely and think on the words of awe, dread, anger, disconnect, loss — and yes, love — that flowed from people directly involved in the world’s most recent turns of history.

To help tell the story, The Associated Press presents quotes from people around the world who shared their experiences, thoughts and insights. Some are universal and insightful, others intimate and specific and a few cases — looking at you, Elon Musk — may require a double take. In many instances, the sharing itself was an act of courage at a time when people are increasingly isolated.

Perhaps, they’ll make you feel less alone as this year of war, chaos and beauty comes to a close.

Loneliness

“It’s like hunger or thirst. It’s a feeling the body sends us when something we need for survival is missing.”

— U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy in an interview with The Associated Press in May after his office reported that loneliness is an epidemic in the U.S. that was dramatically worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. The World Health Organization said anxiety and depression increased by 25 percent globally since the outbreak the COVID-19 global crisis.

Fatigue

“Ten years of war and struggle. And it seems like the blood has only just begun to flow, truly. I regret nothing. But, God, it’s just so tiresome.”

— Dmytro Riznychenko, a 41-year-old psychologist, walking through Kyiv’s Independence Square in November as he considered an uprising that unleashed a decade of momentous change for Ukraine, eventually leading to the current war with Russia.

Wonder

“I’m feeling the goosebumps, and it’s a very happy moment … You can see the energy. It’s beyond words.”

— Shrini Singh as she watched the live broadcast of Indian spacecraft Chandrayaan-3 landing on the lunar surface, making India only the fourth country to achieve this milestone. The successful landing showcasing India’s rising standing as a technology and space powerhouse sparked celebrations across India. Singh was speaking in New Delhi on Aug. 23.

Grief

“We are the best actors in the world. We act like people. When really, we are other beings frozen in our acutely agonizing desolation.”

— Rachel Goldberg, mother of Israeli hostage Hersh Goldberg-Polin, 23, speaking to the U.N. in Geneva on Dec. 12. She was describing the experience of walking around in the world in a sort of limbo, with family members kidnapped during Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack still in captivity as Israel bombards Gaza. Hersh was last seen in a Hamas video climbing into a pickup truck that day with his arm blown off.

Limbo

“She comes into my dreams. She comes into every conversation we’re having here. Everyone keeps asking about her, how her night was, if there is anyone holding her. Because she is all alone.”

— Tal Idan, speaking of her niece, Abigail, 3, whose parents were killed in the Oct. 7 Hamas raid in Israel. Abigail was taken hostage and later released during a prisoner exchange.

Humiliation

“We were treated like cattle, they even wrote numbers on our hands. We could feel their hatred.”

— Ibrahim Lubbad, a 30-year-old computer engineer arrested in Beit Lahiya in the Gaza Strip on Dec. 7 with a dozen other family members and held overnight. Israeli wartime roundups, in which people have been taken to a camp at an undisclosed location, nearly naked and with little water. The roundups revealed an emerging tactic in Israel’s ground offensive in Gaza, experts say, as the military sought to solidify control in evacuated areas in the north and collect intelligence about Hamas operations.

Exasperation

“We are here all together, all the world together, to combat climate change and really, we’re negotiating for what? We’re negotiating for what in the middle of a genocide?”

— Hadeel Ikhmais, a climate change expert with the Palestinian Authority, on Dec. 1 during the COP28 talks in Dubai. The Israeli offensive has killed more than 18,700 Palestinians as of the weekend of Dec. 16-17, the Health Ministry in the Hamas-run territory says.

Meaning

“There will come a point where no job is needed. You can have a job if you wanted to have a job for personal satisfaction. But the AI would be able to do everything … One of the challenges in the future will be how do we find meaning in life.”

— Tesla CEO Elon Musk on AI, in conversation Nov. 20 with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

Disappointment

“They told me that this country was different. But for me, it’s been hell.”

— Karina Obando, 38, a mother from Ecuador who has been given until Jan. 5 to leave the former hotel in New York City where she has been staying with her two young children. She is one of thousands of migrant families in an emergency shelter system who has been ordered by the city to clear out, with winter setting in. Mayor Eric Adams says the order is necessary to relieve a shelter system overwhelmed by asylum-seekers crossing the southern U.S. border.

Pain

“What is most painful is that years after the brutalities and the stealing of our land, British companies are still in possession of our ancestral homes, earning millions from their comfortable headquarters in the U.K., while our people remain squatters.”

— Joel Kimutai Kimetto, 74, speaking to the AP in a phone interview during King Charles III’s visit to Kenya in October. Kimetto said his grandfather and father were kicked out of their ancestral home by the British.

Hope

“God gave me a new lease on life.”

— Osama Abdel Hamid, weeping at a hospital in Idlib, Syria, after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake, the deadliest in decades, devastated his war-ravaged country and parts of Turkey Feb. 6. He said most of his neighbors died when their shared four-story building collapsed. As he fled with his wife and three children, a wooden door fell on them, shielding them from falling debris.

Anger

“We did not die from hunger or the earthquake, but we will die freezing from the cold. It shouldn’t be this way. No one is sending help.”

— Aysan Kurt, 27, speaking to the AP near the quake’s epicenter in Turkey.

Focus

“When we dig, we look for someone alive. From there, we don’t ask ourselves questions. If they’re alive, great. If they’re dead, it’s a shame.”

— Patrick Villadry of the French rescue crew ULIS, describing the technique necessary given the quake’s devastation. Recovering the dead, he noted, was important for Moroccan families.

Questioning

“I don’t understand. Now it’s harder and colder.”

— A commander of the 11th National Guard Brigade’s anti-drone unit who is known on the battlefield as Boxer, voicing discontent among Ukrainian soldiers — once extremely rare and expressed only in private. He was speaking about Ukraine’s attacks against well-armed Russian troops on the other side of the Dnieper River in the southern city of Kherson. Soldiers are asking why these difficult amphibious operations were not launched months ago in warmer weather.

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Disillusionment

“This is probably the most uniquely horrible choice I’ve had in my life.”

— Andrew Collins, 35, an independent from Windham, Maine, on the likely showdown in next year’s election between political foes men who each have served one term as president, Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden. Collins participated a poll this month from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research in which American voters made clear how less than jazzed they are about such a rematch in 2024.

Awe

“It is amazing to see this huge berg in person — it stretches as far as the eye can see.”

— Andrew Meijers, chief scientist aboard the research ship RRS Sir David Attenborough, which crossed paths with the mega iceberg known as the A23a near Antarctica in early December. The iceberg is three times the size of New York City, or more than twice the size of Greater London.

Shock

“When they asked me to open my bra … I was shocked! But I couldn’t speak or refuse. When I tried to cover my breast with my hand, I was even scolded and yelled at … I was totally confused, nervous and humiliated, especially when I was told to lift my left leg on the chair.”

— Priskila Ribka Jelita, a 23-year-old model and a 2023 Miss Universe Indonesia contestant, describing her “body check” in an interview with The Associated Press on August 15 in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Appreciation

“There was silence and like a mist, as if it was dusk, but only a few minutes later the birds were singing again.”

— Carmen Jardines, 56, watching the “ring of fire” eclipse in October from Cancun, Mexico, on the dance of the moon and the sun cheered by millions across the Americas.

Alienation

“My name is used to raise money. But Jean-Pierre doesn’t give me much.”

— Amazon Kayapo tribal Chief Raoni Metuktire, on Belgian filmmaker Jean-Pierre Dutilleux after the souring of their five-decade partnership, considered to be among the world’s most productive partnerships between an Indigenous chief and a Westerner.

Wariness

“Maybe it looks the same on the surface. But when you look with a magnifying glass, you’ll see the essence isn’t the same.”

— Hong Kong artist Wong Ka-ying, 32, who said she sees cultural life is recovering from a stretch of stifling protests and pandemic restrictions. But, she said, even at a glamorous art fair, she felt the chill of a legal clampdown. The art felt tamer than in past years and overtly political art was rare. She was one of 20 people interviewed who said that business indicators and everyday life point to a recovery. But when it comes to anything political, the openness and freedoms that were once hallmarks of the Chinese-ruled former British colony seem permanently gone.

Celebration

“A three-part summer of feminine extravaganza.”

— Taylor Swift, Time’s Person of the Year, describing the summer of 2023 being dominated culturally by her Eras tour, the Barbie movie and Beyoncé’s blockbuster Renaissance Tour.

Protectiveness

“Let’s not have the bleeding of these works, all this intellectual property leaving the continent. Let’s keep it here.’”

— Ugandan attorney Linda Mutesi, an art collector who helped launch the Contemporary Art Society of Uganda. Collecting for her and others has become a principled effort aimed at retaining Africa’s most unique cultural resources.

Intention

“I’m trying not to do anything that alienates anyone. But I can’t just not do the right thing because I’m scared.”

— Cydney Wallace, a Black Jewish community activist in Chicago, part of a growing number of Black Americans who see the Palestinian struggle in the West Bank and Gaza reflected in their own fight for racial equality and civil rights. The recent rise of protest movements against police brutality in the United States, where structural racism plagues nearly every facet of life, has connected Black and Palestinian activists under a common cause.

Prayer

“May God save us.”

— Phrase that neighbors used to greet each other in a remote village in Morocco’s Ouargane Valley after a 6.8 magnitude earthquake devastated the region Sept. 8.

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