2020 is such a nice round number. It’s somehow satisfying to write and to say, yet the year itself was something completely contrary. It was a year littered with angst and turmoil across the globe. We had high hopes for 2021 and quickly realized there was more to come.
Pandemic life is hard. Change, loneliness, uncertainty, anxiety, grief. They all weigh heavily on us along with financial strain for many, the pain of empathy for others and a vague helpless feeling that can not quite be defined.
I spend my life trying to foster wellbeing. I believe in resilience and the deep capacity of all beings to overcome. I also believe that all feelings are valid and it is vital that we allow them, acknowledge, validate and leave space to move through the vast array of experiences that make up the human condition. In the midst of pandemic life – it can be very confusing. How do we foster hope and faith in resilience without ignoring all the struggle? How do we honestly share this fatigue and validate one another’s emotions without accidentally dragging each other down in the exact moment we need to hold each other up? It’s delicate and precarious. In my day to day life I rarely worry – but this worries me.
My love of people has made me a career “watcher”. I pay attention, reflect, relate and marinate in the feelings of others. Throughout the pandemic I have observed things that amaze and inspire me – and things I believe contribute to our pain. The early weeks of 2020 I referred to as “the deep exhale” there was a profound sense of slowing. People were nervous and uncertain but determined to take advantage of the down time, to be present with family, enjoy hobbies. We, as a global community embraced humor, sharing, collaboration. It was beautiful. Certainly a lot of this has continued yet – as they say – the show must go on. Amid the ongoing uncertainty and growing concern we made our way back out. Emerging from the relative safety of home to a world where everything was different, and nothing has changed. This is where my worry was birthed.
Over the years I have worked a lot and also had my own experience with serious physical pain. I have come to understand that when we push too hard for a solution that can not be found it enhances suffering. Sometimes it is better to ‘soften’ into acceptance. When we accept and turn attention to coping we often experience less suffering and even some comfort. The same is true with emotional pain. Right now (and other times in all our lives I’m sure) pushing against change, using too much energy to fight new norms and waiting for life to be ‘normal again’ just makes life harder. We need to grieve, and we need to soften into some acceptance, for our own sake.
The world has changed many times through out human history – and will again. The world is constantly changing. It is the pace of change that has been exaggerated by the pandemic. This has been more like a war, depression or other traumatic event. With rapid change comes a sense of disbelief, life feels surreal and our sense of time changes. It feels like forever and too fast. We tell ourselves this is temporary – and it is, mostly. In truth, some of life as we knew it will return and some will not. As has happened before, as it will again. We don’t have to like it, we don’t have to pretend it’s okay. We DO need to know and trust that it will become our norm, in time. We will adapt and find a familiar comfort again.
It is hard to imagine that we can get used to wearing masks, or travelling less, or visiting with distancing measures in place. I suspect the disbelief we feel is much the same as past generations would have felt had they suddenly been told – “you will carry your phone in your pocket now. You will read your news on a computer screen, you will have a calendar that announces your appointments for you.” Yet here we are. Things that once felt foreign and frightening become our absent minded, accepted and comfortable “normal”. This is how we evolve. We do not only create the world through foresight and invention. We also react and adapt. Because we are AMAZING creatures with the ability to DO BOTH.
As we move into the next phases of the pandemic we face variant strains of the virus and economic uncertainty. We also embrace vaccinations and projects on a global scale as never before seen in human history. We are tired, nervous and hopeful. We are lonely and valuing connection more than ever before. All of these things are opposites – and all are true at the same time. We can be more than one thing at once. (Because we are AMAZING!)
If we can be opposites at once, we can be sad, and miss old norms while exploring and embracing new ones. We can allow ourselves to miss backyard parties and rock concerts while developing new games to play and new traditions. Pushing back is not about rejection and stubborn resistance to change. It is about knowing our deeper selves, our capacity as human beings and calling upon the flame within. Pushing back is a process of forging forward with intention and trust. We aren’t okay – and we are. Pandemic life has taken much and there is much to be discovered from the experience.
If I could wrap my arms around the world right now I would. I would hold every human tightly and whisper gently. I would let everyone cry and throw things as long as they needed until they fell into a deep, healing sleep. When they emerged from that sleep I would sit quietly beside them and ask “now – what do we do about today?”
The way forward is not about looking back OR forward. It’s about deciding what we can do today. How can we use our creative minds to meet our needs – even imperfectly? Can we open our minds to something less than ideal, because it’s a start? Can we stay present enough to find a little peace, which makes space for a little joy, which makes space for more? I believe we can. History holds significant evidence of exactly this ability.
Personally, I find it quite difficult to imagine where we will be in a year, or two or ten. I am a little nervous, and deeply curious. I expect there will be things I miss and things I never expected to love. What I know in my heart is that the story of the pandemic will one day slip into just that. A story. A memory. Something I reflect upon and talk about as formative, a challenge and just one of many experiences in a lifetime rich with experiences. THIS is life. Not just life, a GOOD one! I accept this and therefor I struggle but I do not suffer.
My sincere hope in sharing these thoughts is to ease the experience for others. We aren’t okay on a lot of levels right now, and we are, we will be. My loving advice is this. Take time to feel. Know your feelings are normal, natural and valid. Then Push Back. Dig deep into all that you hold within and do something to make today good.