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As we relish our newfound freedoms from lockdowns, masks, and (hopefully) misinformation, I want to remember the lessons of this strange “Coronatime.”
It’s been a time of heartbreak and holding on for dear life. A time of confusion and courage. Discord and defiance.
Over the past year and a half, the Biblical Tower of Babel has often come to mind—as people shouted in a thousand different languages on social media, with little understanding.
Historians will, no doubt, study the seismic shifts that stem from this time for decades to come. But for now, with whatever 2020 vision we can glean, let’s remember what we learned as individuals and as a society during this extraordinary time.
Here are the six biggest lessons resonating with me:
1. It’s crucial to consistently nurture our close friendships.
The pandemic compounded a widespread sense of isolation for many.
Despite having thousands of social media friends, I’ve felt lonely or on the outside more often than I’d like to admit. Paradoxically, during stay-at-home orders, I rediscovered how important my real friends are, even if they’re thousands of miles away.
With nothing else to do last fall, I set up a weekly zoom call with two girlfriends I used to trip the light fantastic with in New York City 20 years ago.
Aside from occasional visits after we all left the city, we hadn’t been in close contact for years.
Now, in our Zoom calls, we consistently cheer each other on—cultivating a kind acceptance and kick-ass courage. Sharing our tender, open-heartedness and our hard-won resilience.
It was a huge relief to reconnect so deeply. And now we know better than ever: true friendship will get us through anything because, at whatever distance, we really do have each other’s backs.
2. Fear of missing out (FOMO) is a waste of time.
I used to fret about friends making fabulous plans which I may or may not be invited to join in on.
What a pity party!
A few months into the pandemic, I intentionally let every last bit of the dreaded FOMO burn away in my psyche. Of course, it helped that there was: Nothing. Going. On.
Now I’m committed to snuffing out forevermore such silliness because, truly, who f*cking cares?
It’s up to me to create the experiences I want to have in my life with the people who value spending time with me.
So I’m no longer chasing people who don’t reciprocate my efforts to connect. If I’m not invited to the party, I’ll throw my own shindig.
3. No amount of busyness or distractions should take the place of nurturing my primary relationship.
The pandemic created a kind of cauldron for relationships. The burning and churning of cohabitating together, 24/7, led some couples to implode—others emerged stronger than ever.
Singles—arguably the hardest hit of all—were challenged to make fundamental changes to combat their loneliness. How many times I wished I could reach across the voice texts and the video screens to hug my single friends starving for human touch.
I was lucky enough to share the many months of lockdown in Colorado with my partner of 12 years, in a house big enough to avoid overhearing each other’s phone conversations.
I confess I sometimes felt ashamed of this privilege when huge families were cooped up in small apartments with no backyards. I can only wonder, “How the heck did they do it?”
With nowhere to go but home, my lover and I finally did some of the work that we’d been avoiding, to some degree, for years. Sans the distractions of socializing and traveling, we faced ourselves and each other more deeply than we ever have before.
A couple of conflicts early on led to some profound conversations about what we really wanted in our lives, in ourselves, and from each other.
We committed to a new level of kindness and accountability. We cooked fabulous meals together. We watched a lot of Netflix. We became better lovers and better friends.
I’m deeply grateful, and I hope and pray we never stray from cultivating such a sweet intimacy born from this strange and difficult time.
4. We are all connected.
Here in the United States, we might be seeing the light at the end of this pandemic tunnel, but experts say more people will die from COVID-19 in 2021 than died in all of 2020.
While we are, thankfully, witnessing steep declines in deaths and infections in many parts of the world, some countries critically need more access to life-saving vaccines.
As long as there is a widespread infection anywhere in the world, we are all at risk. New variants will continue to emerge, and some of them may be more deadly, spreading even more rapidly.
In our interconnected world, pandemics are a global health challenge and a profound lesson: we truly are all in this together—so we better start acting like it.
5. Black Lives Matter. Universal Health Care Matters. Science Matters.
Does any of that really need explaining at this point? I don’t think so.
The pandemic was a species-wide wake up call. The diseases of racism, poverty, and inequality are lethal. The disease of denial, equally so.
Let’s rip the spiritually bypassed glasses from our privileged eyes and see the world as it is: we’re in the midst of Earth’s Sixth Great Extinction, with massive ecosystem degradation and catastrophic climate change potentially making complex life on our planet untenable within decades.
We must get to work solving these human-made problems together—and fast.
6. Life is a precious and perilous gift.
As we all rush to “return to normal” (which probably isn’t even possible, much less advisable), I hope we let the pandemic fundamentally change how we live.
That will only happen if we really learn the lessons of this time.
Nothing will ever be the same for the loved ones of the millions of people who have died from Covid-19. Many others continue struggling with the physical, neurological, or emotional effects of the long-hauler syndrome.
In fundamental ways, the pandemic gave us the opportunity to come face-to-face with our mortality.
How would we act differently if we fully realized that our days were numbered?
How would we treat each other if we knew that each hug, each conversation, each meal we shared might actually be our last?
By bravely facing the reality that one day, every single one of us will die, we can return to life with more of our humanity in play. Hopefully, then, we can dig deeper, finding and extending the compassion that I believe every single one of us deserves.
As my Grandmother used to say, “Life is short, no matter how long you live.”
COVID-19 has shown us that no amount of money or privilege or power can make our lives truly worth living (even though money, privilege, and power might extend our lives to some degree).
Only our humanity does that. The whirring circus of doing can’t compete with the reality of who we are being. Being human is a difficult and miraculous gift.
Let’s keep bravely, tenderly opening that gift every moment we have left together.