What are the Lessons from 2020?
Life-changing. Unprecedented. Surreal.
Those are some of my 2020 words. There are others that are a bit, um, stronger.
Some of the most poignant and powerful words of 2020 I’ve read come from Sonia Renee Taylor:
We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-corona existence was not normal other we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate and lack. We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature.Sonia Renee Taylor
So in a year of medical crisis, and emotional turmoil, of civil unrest and educational upheaval, of a political reckoning and economic uncertainty I am trying my best to embrace her words among the lessons from 2020. Her “prescription,” I feel, is one of an abundance mindset – of inclusivity, of another spot at the table, of acceptance. Between grocery lines, sleepless nights and a relentless 24/7 news cycle, it be hard to maintain an abundance mindset. But we can – and we must.
In the Before Times- or the new “B.C.” (Before Covid) – I had a student I know well become distracted in an in-person conversation (oh how I miss those!). Sitting in my office (I actually miss that too!), she was focusing just over my right shoulder on a pathetic looking plant- what had once been a beautiful orchid. Now, maybe I’m reading too much into my memory of the scence, but it seemed as though her eyes were saying – this lady can’t keep a plant alive: What does that say about her ability with humans?
To say I have difficulty successfully taking care of plants is an extreme understatement. I confess, I’m actually a bit of a plant killer. Just ask anyone with whom I’ve shared an apartment, home or classroom with over the years. But the orchid was beautiful when it appeared as a birthday gift, and the memory of that beauty kept me from tossing the rather sad-looking stem.
After the student left, I dutifully watered the plant- for probably the first time in two months, and then forgot about it again. Until March.
On the eve of the state-wide Stay-At-Home orders, the last colleague I saw in real life generously brought me a few things from my office . Letters. Envelopes. Hand sanitizer. And that orchid.
Quarantined at home for weeks, then months, the orchid became my project – a distraction. At first, I took more care with it than I did with my own health, sinking into a pattern of little exercise and quarantine baking that brought on the “quaran-ten.” But soon my habits rebounded – and my plant care paid off – and for months from spring into early summer the orchid bloomed.
Like many of you, I have struggled with adapting and adjusting to our new now- an ever-evolving time period that seems to change in length with each mandate and vaccine press release. But like that orchid, we can recover from this rough spot, and the bloom will be all the much more appreciated knowing the challenges faced in the times before.
Here are some ideas to help you stitch YOUR new tapestry with lessons from 2020:
1. Focus on Family
However big or small your family is, try to savor your moments together. You may be weary of the same few faces, but try to find new ways to connect with those in your immediate bubble. As each season or holiday approaches, think about a safe, timely activity that your entire family can enjoy – jumping in leaves, hot chocolate by the fire, puddle splashing.
2. Recalibrate Commitments
March of 2020 brought a screeching halt to FOMO (the fear of missing out). Social calendars were wiped clean. The endless cycle of practices and games, rehearsals and performances, competitions and tournaments vanished overnight. As you and your family return to activities, think critically about what those are. Return only to what bring you joy, and leave the rest for others to enjoy.
3. Reclaim Time
With everything less scheduled, the pace is slower. You can – and should – carve out time to exercise in a way that brings you fulfillment, not impending dread. You can – and should – reconsider the food you are putting into yourself and your family, thinking about where and how you can remove excess sugars and highly processed foods. You can – and should – allow your entire family unscheduled time. It is that time that breeds what, as children, we called “boredom,” but is, in fact, the root of much creativity.
4. Cultivate individual habits and projects
Within the near-constant togetherness of quarantine, creating a sense of individuality and independence is important. And while our world leading up to 2020 was one that seemingly valued activities and pursuits outside the home, that has all changed. There are so many old school hobbies that have a place in our new now: puzzle-making, knitting, sourdough bread making, gardening. If you focus on what is possible, rather than what was cancelled, you may be surprised to find that there is something you can do at home that does bring you fulfillment.
5. Celebrate simply
In March, it was inconceivable that my summer birthday would be in quarantine. But now it looks as though all of us will have a turn at a distanced celebration. The ideas are creative – car parades, Zoom speed “dating,” goodie bags being dropped off or mailed out.
But it doesn’t take a birthday to call for a celebration. Most weeks, making it to Friday warrants a toast. Thank goodness for the new world of cocktails to go, fine dining take out, and at-home wine tasting. And if you want to celebrate almost any other occasion, there continue to be more and more creative options – including Zoom paint nights, remote cooking classes, and digital scavenger hunts.
6. Connect with those who mean the most
I love to host. Whether it’s a handful of moms and a bottle of wine, or a large, catered birthday party, I enjoy sharing food and drink, space and time, with others. I started event-planning in college, before Pinterest was a thing. Which means my sense of hospitality is more about the connection and less about the color-coordinated decor (though I do love some good, safe decorations!). And while hosting certainly looks different in 2020, there are still opportunities to connect with others.
I was struck by the perspective of Priya Parker, a recent guest on Unlocking Us with Brene Brown. Author of The Art of Gathering (and fellow bicultural white-Indian American woman), Priya shares her mom questions that have guided her through these difficult times: What do you know how to do? What is the need? How can I help?
What a better place our world will be if everyone can focus on their own strengths and how to use those strengths to help others in need.
7. Appreciation for health, breath, and clear air
After five months of quarantine, the West Coast woke up in a cloud of smoke. While thousands evacuated, millions more were forced inside by poor air quality, not just for a day or two, but for close to a month. Meanwhile, hurricanes threatened both the East Coast and Hawai’i.
Nothing like a few natural disasters to help you appreciate the simple act of waking up and breathing clean air. Maybe as a result you drive less and walk or cycle more, welcoming your ability to be outdoors. Maybe you just appreciate your health that much more – something that 2020 already has shown us is more tenuous than we would like to think.
8. Just keep swimming
I am, by nature, a planner, and an optimist, someone who looks forward. I am also a traveler, someone who enjoys exploring new places and connecting with new people. 2020 has put me in my place, testing my ability to maintain these core aspects of my life while looking into a bleak, uncertain future, with severe travel restrictions. In the end, I have tried to persevere. And so can you.