I was in church a few weeks ago. It was the first time I’d been to mass since before Covid and it was a different experience, wearing masks and socially distancing, trying to come together as a church community when the very nature of this virus demands separation. I started thinking about all COVID has taken from us, all the ways it’s demanded we stop doing the things that make us human. And, conversely, all the ways it’s encouraged us to be better, kinder, and stronger people. 2020 has been a crappy year (change my mind) and people across the globe are struggling. We are eight months into a pandemic whose curve we thought we could flatten in two weeks and I know I am not the only one struggling. But it’s the holiday season and I want to be thankful and grateful for the positives this year has brought.
1. Stronger relationships with family and friends. Whether it’s my husband, kiddos, friends or family, my network has both opened wider and gotten tighter. My husband and I had to push past the discomfort and sheer annoyance of everyone being home all the time and needing to work and raise children and still function as adult humans. It wasn’t always perfect, sometimes it was downright terrible, but we had to figure out how to do better and be better, for our kids, for each other, for our own mental health. We worked on listening to each other, hearing each other, and working together to juggle a household that needed to be all things. I feel like we had a crash course in building a stronger marriage and I think we are in a better place now than we were a year ago.
With family and friends, we did Zoom happy hours (like the rest of the country!) but we also just got better about checking in, offering support, and being there for each other – in spirit, in real life, over text or through Marco Polo. Knowing everyone was a. struggling in their own way and b. absolutely no one was getting it just right allowed people the room to offer help and support but also to ask for help and support. I think that as we moved apart physically, we opened up more room to connect emotionally.
2. Grace. More than anything else this year, I heard, “we need to give each other grace.” I think the pre-COVID world of constant motion, overscheduling, and inability to slow down blocked the extra room we often needed to give grace and patience to those around us. We’re only human: working hard, continuously learning, and frequently making mistakes. To be given the time and space to take a step back and offer grace to an employee, an employer, a friend, an acquaintance, or someone who simply bugs you is a generous gift. It costs nothing but can demand a lot. Grace has been extended to me and I’ve gratefully accepted; I’ve struggled extending grace to others, when tired or stressed or frustrated but, when I made the decision, I never regretted it.
3. Embracing the outdoors. I am a huge fan of open windows. Every spring when it warms and every fall when the heat finally breaks, you’ll find my house coated in pollen and dust, echoing with birdsong, and open to the air. This was the first year I’ve heard and seen the neighborhood kids outside as well. As things slowly open back up, the embrace of outdoor concerts or drinks or gatherings is incredible. We pack up picnic blankets and snacks and go find parks or cool public properties and let the kids run and bask in the heat of the sun or the shade of a quiet afternoon. This past spring, we were lucky in South Carolina because the heat didn’t amp up until the summer. We spent the spring with open windows that let in air, hot and sweet and fragrant; the ceiling fans whirred constantly; I watched my kids thrive in sunlight and fresh air. The air isn’t hot anymore. We wear jackets and jump in leaves but still warm our faces in the sun. Being outside feels cleaner and safer and freer now. I don’t want to lose that when we return to “normal,” whatever that might look like.
COVID may have snatched our usual way of doing things. This year will be remembered as one of the most challenging and frustrating of the modern era; I hope it will also be remembered as one of the most human. 2020 has been angry and defiant and messy and heartbreaking. It’s also been inspiring and kind and revolutionary and strengthening. I want to end this year on a positive note. I hope 2020 makes us better. Stronger. Infinitely more grateful.