What’s behind your mask?
Is it fear?
Is it anger?
Is it resentment?
Every time I pass a stranger on the trail near my home in Columbia County, New York, I say to myself, “I can’t see your smile, but I hope you are smiling. I hope you feel hopeful.”
In the fall of 2019, I was living in Astoria, New York working remotely, except for one day a week where I went to my office in Harlem for conferences. Conferences that involved 20 plus people in a room with very little air circulation. It was fall, so everyone had a sniffle, a cough, or a sneeze. We didn’t give it a thought, and at times laughed saying, “If you are sick go sit on the other side of the room.”
The holidays came around, and my son and his girlfriend flew in from Austin, Texas for our yearly holiday visit. We endured a trek to Fifth Avenue to see the tree at Rockefeller Plaza; the streets so crowded that we feared losing each other. We made the decision that while we were longtime New Yorkers, we no longer needed to endure this trek year after year—that this might be the last time we go see the tree.
We had no clue how true this would be.
My son went back to Austin after the holidays, and I decided that because I worked remotely, I was finally going to look into moving upstate, something I’d been talking about for 20 years.
On December 28th, I found a small rental home off a dirt road on five acres. It was cheaper than my apartment in Astoria, and I was filled with hope. I moved in February 15th, 2020.
Two weeks later the world spun rapidly out of control.
2020 could be the year we lost or the year we reawakened—it is up to us.
In the midst of a global pandemic some are protesting for the mere right to live without the fear of being killed, or the severe lack of leadership that has us dumbfounded, terrified, and feeling hopeless.
We keep trying to find solid ground; a ground that will hold us as we remain reeling and spinning.
This is not about politics, nor is it about the worst possible combination of events in my lifetime—it is about our humanity and at times lack of it.
It is about finding a sense of compassion and leadership when we don’t understand, or even know, what we are dealing with.
2020 has changed us all.
Just when I thought that technology was stealing precious eye contact and disconnecting us—our eyes are now what speak.
In our eyes we see sorrow, fear, anger, hatred, joy, hope, kindness, and compassion. Our eyes tell a story, and I want mine to say there will be hope, there will be healing, and there will be love.
Is 2020 the year we lost or is it the year that gave us an opportunity to be better, better connected, more understanding, more forgiving, and less selfish?
I am a therapist, and human nature is my specialty.
I have listened to all the stories: some filled with fury, some filled with terrible fear and hopelessness, and some filled with gratitude and love.
We all suffer the same affliction, but the differences in our actions, hearts, and minds seem as if we are each suffering a different disease—one that kills the human spirit and one that is generating a new heart.
I live alone with my dog on a dirt road. Some days I get wrapped in the thoughts of, “What if?” But most days, I am filled with the understanding that this period in time can either break me or make me better.
The earth needed healing and it is taking it. Perhaps, we can learn a lesson from the quiet healing of the earth and see this time as a necessary time of healing and growth.
A time where we can chose to step out of our self-involved lives and care about what the world is beckoning us to do: to be better, kinder, wiser, and to live with less.
2020 can be the great teacher we all need.
Or we can keep stubbornly stamping our feet and remaining in a place of loss. We can stay in a place where we note every single moment we are cheated of something, or unfairly made to do things that we do not want to do.
Or we can stand after the spinning is done, wobbly at the knees, a bit dizzy, and seek out what is left after the spin cycle is done.
After the spinning, we can find memories: of long phone calls with loved ones, notes written from friends long ago, and precious time spent with our loved ones, we might never have had, had it not been for the stay-at-home orders—time spent cooking or baking for the neighbors, and time to read those books that had been sitting on our shelf forever.
Or, like for me, we find time alone that gives us room to grow, become more whole, and to be more generous.
We don’t know what the future holds, but if I have learned anything at all, it’s that nothing lasts forever. Nothing is a given, nothing stays the same, and nothing is owed to us.
2020 will leave us changed forever, but in its wake it leaves an open path, a clearing for a different and more insightful, richer life—should we choose it.
Only if we choose it.
Here’s what we can do while we wait for our own sustenance to kick in, and as life returns to a new normal:
>>Stop watching the news—it promotes division, anxiety, and lack of hope, not to mention certain PTSD.
>>Only speak of things that unite us, not divide us, when speaking to loved ones who differ in opinion. Be the light and shine bright.
>>Find joy at every turn. The silence that has been gifted to us is an opportunity to see things in full-blown color: the butterfly landing on a flower, the smile on a young child’s face, the beauty and wisdom in the elderly, a handwritten note, a package filled with random silliness to a friend or family member, or cooking new recipes and then feeding the neighbors.
>>When darkness seems relentless choose light fiercely. It will sustain you, strengthen you, and remind you that we are more than what is happening around us. Collectively, we can be better than we have ever been, for all humans want the same thing—to live healthy, happily, and fully.
>>If you pray, pray harder. Pray for humanity, for all countries, all people, and all life. Pray that what unites us will be ferociously stronger than what divides us.
We can do this.
Make 2020 the year that life changed for the better despite the devastation, turmoil, and uprooting.
Let us redefine what it means to be human—by rooting ourselves in love and strength.