all of the selves we Have ever been
A few years ago some friends of mine decided to give up shopping for traditional holiday gifts. Smart, hard-working, and successful, this couple had been fortunate in their lives and careers. Their home and those of their extended family members were bursting with “stuff.” My friends decided that instead of more stuff, they would give their children, grandchildren, and relatives the gift of “experiences” such as travel, wine tastings, and game nights. I applauded the idea--what a wonderful way to share time, build memories, and solidify relationships; and for children and young adults, a precious opportunity to see older adults and grandparents as smart, curious, vital, interesting, active, and FUN.
That conversation brought to my mind the first time I visited the RainForest Exhibit at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. I went to see the exhibit soon after its opening in 1992. The experience was every bit as exciting for the adults as it was for the children oohing and ahhing at the giant waterfall and interactive exhibits. As we made our way around the exhibit area, the lights went down, thunder began to rumble, and lightning lit up the “sky.” We experienced a tropical rainstorm.
It was a moment of enlightenment for me, not because of the lightning strike, but because I realized someone, some person, made this happen. It was someone’s actual job to make it rain in a building! I might as well have been struck by the lightning that day because I have never forgotten the feeling that new insight gave me. So much more is possible than I ever imagined.
While women had been instrumental in the war effort, growing up in the post-WWII era, girls were still expected to stay within the boundaries of traditional roles. By the 1970s, the Women’s Movement was shaking things up, and more teenage girls were going off to college, but career advice remained traditional. A young lady could be a secretary, teacher, nurse, or if Catholic, a nun. That was the narrow range of typical options as I prepared for entry into the adult world.
Fast forward (really fast or it will take up your entire day)--2020 put all of our lives on pause as we tried to survive and wait-out a pandemic. It has been a time of upheaval and re-evaluation. The usual and the traditional were torn apart. Some folks lost their health, others their lives. Some people found they could work from home, and they liked it. Others realized they had been in need of more family togetherness. Some said the togetherness was too much. Many women homeschooled their children and discovered they did not want to be teachers or fulltime homemakers. People were forced into a new experience and many came to new insights about themselves, their lives, and possibilities.
With the coronavirus vaccine reaching more people, it is time to prepare for re-entry. What will life be like on this new earth? We’ve been away for a while.
When astronauts prepare for re-entry from outer space, they don’t just fall back to earth. NASA has planned for a controlled descent, a careful trajectory to bring them home. Adjustments are made to the “attitude” or orientation of the spacecraft and a heat shield protects the returning vessel from bursting into flames. Parachutes and balloons deploy for a safe landing, and fresh air enters the craft as the astronauts bob about on the ocean awaiting their ride to dry land.
It has been a time of re-evaluation for me. I grew older and crossed over the line into Medicare. It gave me an unanticipated sense of freedom that I no longer had to be tied to work in order to have health care. I began to think about the freedoms I had during the pandemic and the things I lost and missed. The pandemic turned out to be precious time to think about what it is that I care about and enjoy. What I can live with and what I can’t live without. I am seriously considering my new trajectory and my attitude, trying to adjust so that I don’t burst into flames. Bobbing around on the ocean might be fun. Maybe I will learn how to make it rain in a building or do something that has never been done before.
In the pandemic shift, there was a gift of experiences and possibilities.
Prepare for re-entry.
It is a time of revelations.
I’m not talking about the end of the world here. I am talking about personal discoveries.
As I was walking yesterday afternoon, I passed two neighbors in adjoining yards. The street was quiet and the two were keeping their social distance, so it made it possible for me to overhear a snippet of their conversation. The two women were discussing what it was like to have their children receiving education at home. One mother described how her young school-age daughter had taken control of the situation creating lists and folders, organizing the homework and getting things done. The mother expressed both pride and surprise. In the midst of this crisis, the child revealed something about herself; there was something inside her that had not previously had an opening. When given the opportunity, new talents and a new maturity emerged.
Hmm. This revelation gave me something more to chew on than my peppermint gum.
While the current circumstances are weighty, there is also something freeing about the fact this crisis is happening to everyone and not just a few who must struggle on alone. Every person will be touched in some way. I recognize that some will be hit much harder than others, but there will be a new shared understanding. There is no blame or shame in a job loss, in having worry about paying the rent or the mortgage, struggling with homework, or running out of toilet paper.
When the pandemic is over, there will be a system-wide re-set. The world will be changed. What types of businesses will there be? Will we bring some good manufacturing jobs back to the country so that we are not without pharmaceuticals, PPE, and tech parts in a future crisis? Which companies will survive? What lessons will have been learned about an at-home workforce?
Individually, we have time to “find ourselves.” Some will find they like working from home. Others will find it impossible. Some will relish the homeschooling and may decide to continue. Others will have far more appreciation for teachers and for their child’s unique needs and abilities. Some will get the push they’ve long needed to leave a job they hate. Others will return to work with a renewed appreciation and vigor.
Some will have the opportunity to work in a job they might not have considered before like going from a desk job to a labor job, perhaps in a grocery store or shipping company. During this time some will volunteer at foodbanks or blood drives and try their hands at service. People may have the opportunity to think about what it is they really want to do when they return to work.
We now have time to examine our priorities. Some families will realize that they can make do with less work so they can enjoy more time at home. Without expenses for transportation, child care, morning coffee, work lunches, dry cleaning, gasoline, car maintenance, housekeeping, or lawn care, there will be new possibilities for addressing quality of life for families.
Individually, it is a time to re-evaluate not just our spending habits, but the relationships in our lives. How much do we need to be with people? Who do we most enjoy as company? Who wears us out? How much time should we be spending on social media? We will be spending much more time in our personal space and with our stuff. Will we see more clearly how much we really need, what we can share, and what is weighing us down?
As I make the turn for home, I digest my thoughts. What will these weeks at home reveal to me about myself? Like the school girl, I will make some lists and do some homework. I will pay attention to the people, things, and activities I miss. I will notice what brings me the greatest joy. I feel a hopeful curiosity. Perhaps there is something in me just waiting for an opening.