This is the ninth iteration of my yearly Christmas Eve “fraGEElay”* post, and 2020 has been a year of fragility like never before. Over 334,000 Americans have died due to Covid, with nearly 19 million cases overall.
That means that this Christmas millions of Americans will be dealing with the various degrees of loss this horrible virus has brought. Many, many tables will have one less place to set. Many more will have less to set upon that table. Utterly fragile times.
And altered lives mean altered traditions. Our Christmas traditions have already been morphing over the past few years with the loss of some loved ones and the relocation of others, but this year will be exceptional…in that it will only be our little family of three. Still, we are connected beyond the boundaries of our home through the gift of technology and even a Christmas Eve “parking lot sing-a-long” that our church is hosting. Blessings amidst the fragility.
Yes, this year will be very different, but perhaps the reduction of the typical hubbub and chaos that surround the season will give us the opportunity to better remember why the holiday exists in the first place.
And maybe in this different holiday experience we will be gentler with one another—and ourselves. And love one another—and ourselves. After all, love is what it is all about. It is the whole reason for the season with that little baby lying in a manger…the literal embodiment of love. And we could all stand a heck of a lot more love these days.
2020 has shown us just how much we lack in loving one another and how very fragile our country is in a multitude of ways. And while 2021 brings fresh hope with it…we have a long way to go before what has been broken can heal. A very long way. But, as I wrote in my last post, renewal willcome even after devastating loss.
We may be fragile—and times may be fragile—but we are tough. We will fight for love and hope and health and healing and grace and mercy…and renewal.
I wish you a peaceful, safe, and love-filled Christmas and New Year. May we seek and find a way of being better to one another…in our homes, our communities, our nation, and our world.
*If you are unfamiliar with this reference, it comes from the beloved movie “A Christmas Story.” I can no longer see the word “fragile” and pronounce it in any way other than fraGEElay. That must be Italian.
With pretty much everything being a cause for division these days, I’m pretty sure there is something we can all agree on: 2020 was a year. An exceptional year that brought us a great deal of pain, struggle, and loss. A year that gave us plenty to learn from and a lot of tough challenges to work through.
And now that we are soon to have 20/20 hindsight of 2020…what do we see more clearly?
I saw this poem on Instagram, and it gave me hope…
What if 2020 isn’t cancelled? What if 2020 is the year we’ve been waiting for? A year so uncomfortable, so painful, so scary, so raw – that it finally forces us to grow. A year that screams so loud, finally awakening us from our ignorant slumber. A year we finally accept the need for change. Declare change. Work for change. Become the change. A year we finally band together, instead of pushing each other further apart.
2020 isn’t cancelled, but rather the most important year of them all.
What if 2020 is the year we finally see 20/20? What if it is the year that we see things for what they truly are and then strive to make them better?
If this is indeed the case, 2020 brought some critical issues into sharper focus. Yes, there have been good things that have come about this year, but for me, 2020 has made some things undeniably, painfully clear. So…this post is going to get dark (and the list is incomplete!), but perhaps there will be some light at the end.
Systemic change…needs the system to change. And the system isn’t going to change when it works for those who created it and hold the power and money…and it’s been working for the powerful for a very long time. Racial injustice is part of the system. Gender inequality is part of the system. Income inequality is part of the system. So those folks in power are either going to have to have a colossal change of heart…or we’re going to have to have a change of power. I think we know which of these is more possible than the other.
We are indeed in a post-truth era. Because someone merely says something should not make that something true, but it seems that is enough these days for “facts.” Having been groomed for months to expect that if the election didn’t re-elect the current holder of the office he would cry “rigged” should have caused everyone to suspect that a game was in the process of being played. But for WAY too many people, it did not. The fact that this crying of fraud without any substantiation has radicalized people to the point of threats and violence is a reminder that fear, hate, and greed are the root causes of most of the misery in this world. We need objective truths to matter again.
If our well-being depends on the collective good, we are in trouble. We may come together to help people in short-term instances of natural destruction, but apparently asking to help each other with longer term behavior like wearing masks is too much for some. I’m not sure where we go from here if covering your face is too much of a sacrifice to make to help others stay healthy. I’m not sure at all.
Our gargantuan corporate healthcare and insurance systems aren’t working for anyone except the suits. And the more they grow, the worse off we all will be. Covid has made this irrefutably clear. Too many people don’t get the care they need because they don’t have insurance. Too many of our healthcare workers are overworked and underpaid. People fight government intervention in healthcare because they say keeping it private is better…but as these private systems grow, what is the difference? Big is big. Both access to and quality of care suffer. Another system that needs changing.
Science matters. Enough said.
We need to change how we take care of our older citizens. The pandemic made it heartbreakingly clear that long-term care facilities are leaving our older Americans vulnerable and in danger. What a horrible and sad way to see that “corporate care” is only interested in the care of their bottom line. Our systemic change list grows.
Income inequality is so much more than different-sized paychecks. Our reliance on technology this year has meant that those without access to internet or devices have struggled to learn and earn, and the disparity continues to grow. If kids can’t access education, people can’t go to the doctor, and families are going hungry, this should matter to everyone—not just those who are directly impacted. Systemic change, anyone?
Our democracy is not beyond destruction. I can’t believe I just wrote those words. I remember learning as a kid in history class about the toppling of governments and thinking that could never happen to the United States, but I am learning that not only can it happen, but it is in the process of happening. And unless we can protect and have faith in our free and fair elections and have our politicians work for “we the people” instead of themselves, we are at risk of becoming a full-blown plutocracy.
Yes, indeed…2020 has taught us that we have several systems that need changing, which I find totally overwhelming.
Where do we go from here?
I wish I could enumerate the steps that we need to take to begin the fixing, rebuilding and/or healing, but I am not wise.
What I can offer is a simple simile for hope and change:
Be like lichen.
Be like lichen.
I remember learning that after a volcano erupts and spews a deadly and destructive lava flow, the first thing that grows back and begins to rebuild life is…lichen.
Lichen begins growing on lava’s ruins and is the foundation of the new ecosystem.
To me, this simile is helpful and hope-filled because the devastation that the lava brings seems insurmountable—but there is still life, still hope. It always grows. There is the chance to start over and create anew—even in the shadow of the very volcano that could erupt again—life is reborn.
The lichen is the basis for all the rest to begin.
We may not be able to be the lichen everywhere that needs change and renewal, but we can be to some things.
At least that’s what I tell myself on a good day. The reality is that the work to be done everywhere to fight injustice, help those in need, and take care of our planet is difficult and daunting.
But 2020 has given us a chance to see it clearly. And now that we see it better for what it is…let us get to work. Let us be like lichen.
I’ve come to think of every day as Blursday, Marchtember Oneteenth during this pandemic. For most all of us, there is life BC (Before Covid) and then this haze of “the new normal.” It has most definitely been a struggle. So much loss, fear, pain, and uncertainty. Maybe all those things apply directly to you or maybe some only to those around you or beyond, but we are all going through a metamorphosis of sorts.
I thought a not-so-brief chronicle of some of the lessons I am learning (so far) through this time might resonate with you. I kind of got on a roll, so feel free to scroll to the ones that pique your interest. Of course, who am I kidding? You can stop reading altogether, too…I never assume I’ve won your time to read my words!
Lessons learned…in no particular order…
I knew marking lasts was important to me, but I never knew just how much. I missed the last couple days of work in March because I had a cold and feared that my symptoms would be off-putting to those I would come in contact with. Those two days were Thursday and Friday. By Monday, the doors were closed. No goodbye to coworkers or taking a moment to pause and consider. Of course, no one knew it would be this long, but I wish I would have had a chance to mark that moment—and others, too.
With word filtering out that schools would probably close soon, my son came home from school that Friday with hopes of being able to record a rehearsal of the play he was lead in that Monday after school to at least have a version of it. But there was no school that Monday, and there was no rehearsal to record. The seniors didn’t know that Friday that it would be the last time they walked those halls that signified so much during this chapter of their lives. It all happened so fast.
My heart aches for them and all that they missed.
I took to keeping a list of “Covid Castaways”—those things canceled and missed due to the pandemic. It’s a long—and growing—list. My son tells me, “Mom, you don’t get to be more upset than me. It’s fine. I’m fine.” I don’t believe that totally, but I do believe that these kids are going to come through this experience stronger and more resilient. But being able to note a last, to take it in before the tide turns, truly means something to me—and now I realize it so much more.
Time does not facilitate creativity in and of itself. When I learned that I was going to be paid for several weeks even though I could only do minimal work from home, I thought, Girl, you are going to kick some serious writing ass…I mean, come on—no excuses, right? My stalled book project would find new life with all the time I could dedicate to it, except…time does not equal creativity or the ability to focus. Discipline, might, but…yeah. Not my strong suit on most things. Especially when…
I recognize just how many layers of anxiety I have. I have dealt with anxiety all my life, but these last few years have piled additional layers almost like sedimentary rock. And just like rock, it is hard to climb out from under. The divisiveness of our country has weighed on my heart in direct correlation with its growth—or at least its “outing,” where things like social media gave hate and vitriol megaphones to use and abuse. But in 2016, that layer hardened into heavy stone. Another layer may be added in November of this year. I’m trying to fight against it but brace for it in hopes that it won’t crush me if it solidifies. Other layers include the pandemic, of course, as well as social injustice, job limbo, financial security, what the future will look like…
Realizing who is truly an “essential” worker has exemplified the reality and unfairness of income inequality. In many ways, this pandemic has highlighted how the disparity of income levels has a reverse correlation to the essential value of the work done. Want to be wealthy? Help the rich get richer. Want to worry about whether or not you can take a vacation, send your kid to college, qualify for a mortgage, or have health insurance? Serve others. That may be what some people call capitalism, but it’s what I call fucked up.
It doesn’t take long for our polarized society to even see something like a pandemic as a divisive issue. One word: masks. Seriously? As I shared on Facebook, here’s the deal with the whole “you can’t legislate my face” mask issue that I just don’t freaking understand…I have claustrophobia and would really love not to wear a mask when I go out in public. But if I did that, it’s not myself I put at risk but YOU. And that makes me slam dunk choose to make myself uncomfortable because it’s worth it. But unless and until that choice is a collective American choice, we are simply prolonging the agony and suffering for everyone. The message that non-mask wearers make is very clear: I care about me more than you…or your elderly mom…or your diabetic kid…or the economy that will continue to suffer as places deal with ongoing sickness and death…or this country I allegedly love so much. And that really pisses me off.
The importance of face-to-face visits, even for this introvert. When I was a kid, Zoom was a TV show. Now it’s how I interact with almost everyone who is not in my house. Optometrists must be making a good buck through all of this. But screens—while better than nothing—do not come close to truly being with others. I pray for a vaccine for many reasons—and one of them is because I’ve got some serious hugging to do when it is safe to do so again.
In the absence of structure, routine is all the more critical. Oh, routine, where art thou? Apparently, one of the best routines I keep is the search for the perfect routine. Seriously—I have scads of notes on attempted routines that will allow me to be at my best…and then never followed. And now? When many life anchors have been lifted? Yeesh. It is so needed. And so glaringly missing. I think I’ll hammer out a new and improved routine tomorrow. That should do the trick.
The mundane matters. BC, I appreciated that my commute was short. If we ever get to AC (After Covid, not air conditioning), I will appreciate that I have a commute. I appreciate running errands now…because I can. Those everyday mundane things matter, and I hope to remember that in the future when I am stuck in traffic on my commute. But Covid has also reminded me of the value of the sun (holy crimony was it a gray Spring!), long walks, quiet time, and just being with one another.
Covid-19 isn’t our country’s only pandemic. The murder of George Floyd has incited not only protests but conversations…and helped bring to the forefront an ongoing fight—a long, arduous battle—for justice and equality. There is much work to be done. No one is “immune” from racism. There is no vaccine. And the more we can have the necessary, tough “come to Jesus” (literally…in terms of how he treated all people) conversations, the closer we’ll come to curing this cancer that is crippling our country.
Saturation and emotional exhaustion are the enemy of empathy. We can only take so much, right? But what if it just keeps coming? There is so much to worry about and be angry about… and to feel. It’s overwhelming. And sometimes that can result in shutting down for a bit. Sometimes we need to step away for our own mental health and catch our breath. The danger comes when we shut out. Empathy is one of our greatest tools in bridging divides, and if we lose that…well, let’s just not find out, okay? Let’s recharge and not retreat.
We are in this together…but very differently. My family has been blessed with the ability to stay home and work. But I know people who have continued to go to work every day because of what they do. And then there are the multitudes of people who lost their jobs. All such different experiences.
My family has been blessed with health. I know others who have had Covid, though I know no one personally who has died or lost a loved one from it. But as of today, over 143,000 American families unfortunately know exactly what that is like.
Yes, this is a collective experience, and some of the stories we will tell one day will share those common threads. So many more, though, will be stories that only we can share. What will the moral of those stories be? Only time will tell…but I pray that they show what we have learned from this…and from one another.
This pandemic is an evolution in many things—plans, treatments, predictions, messaging—but I see one consistent byproduct: the conflicted feelings of comparative suffering. All of us have lost something, but there are those who have lost everything…and that can make us feel guilty about mourning our own losses.*
My dad died shortly after I turned 21, and within a year or so, one of my mom’s friends lost her husband, too. My mom invited the friend over to offer some support and their conversation left a lasting mark on me. It was where I learned how “at least” is rarely the start of a helpful comment when it comes to support or empathy.
My mom was attempting to connect with the woman by telling her that she knew some of what she was going through because of her own loss. “But at least you had a chance to say goodbye…” was the friend’s response. You see, my dad had died after a struggle with cancer. The friend’s husband had died in a tragic crash. My mom was taken aback by the comment and tried to “defend” her own loss, “Yes, but I also got to see him suffer for months…”
It was the strangest damn thing. An effort to comfort and support became a grief ranking. Frustrating…but very human. Turns out we humans are a very frustrating bunch.
But being aware of this tendency helps us to tame the comparative suffering beast a bit. Recognizing it and then reminding ourselves that both “sides” are true allows us to both feel for ourselves and others. Everyone’s pain is their own.
When the reality of school closings and events canceled started to take shape, as a parent, my heart immediately started breaking. The death toll from the coronavirus felt very distant at that point, but my son’s losses were right in front of me. He is an involved school kid, and he lost a lot: concerts, competitions, a play that he was the lead in, and a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Iceland with his buddies. In fact, I started a list of “Covid castaways” to chronicle all the “misses.” The list grows every week.
When I first talked to him about these things, I started to choke up. “Aw, Mom—you don’t get to be more upset than I am…don’t worry, I’m all right,” he comforted. But I think his seeing my acknowledgment of the pain helped him. It is a sad thing, and he (and we) are not being selfish to feel badly about it.
It is our immediate instinct to downplay the loss because we know others have it so much worse. Death. Illness. Job loss. A missed school play seems so trivial in the light of these losses…but it still hurts, and the hurt is valid.
Everyone’s experience is differently the same… we are home and isolated doing what is helpful but doesn’t feel helpful at all. Not when there are others who are doing so much more and suffering so much more. Whether we are worried about our financial futures or are mourning the loss of a loved one, the spectrum of anxiety, loss, and hurt is vast. Yet we are indeed all in this together.
It is only when those of us on the “loss spectrum” don’t honor or acknowledge those further down the spectrum that the embracing of our own feelings can really turn into a negative. Our pain may be all that we feel firsthand, but it doesn’t mean that it is the only pain that exists or matters.
It really boils down to two things:
No matter what degree of pain you are going through, it matters, and you should acknowledge it and feel it while at the same time validating those who are dealing with what we understand as more pain and honoring that but also understanding that that doesn’t mean your own pain isn’t painful nor is anyone else’s because all pain is painful.
#1 applies to everyone.
This pandemic has been a huge exercise in learning that feeling for the losses of others does not mean we have to deny our own losses. Nor does feeling our own pain take away from our capacity to be empathetic and supportive. The more we strive to understand it all, the better we will come through it.
And wouldn’t it be great to come through it having learned to be kinder and more caring to one another?
A girl can dream.
*Please know that the above rambling does not constitute my thinking I am an authority on any matter. If you are interested in reading more on this subject from actual experts, Brené Brown and David Kessler are great resources.