2020. Will this number ever mean anything to us but the year where everything in our world came crashing down? Will we look back on it someday and tell stories to those who never lived through it and talk about “those days” in the same way as when we’ve had to listen to people talk of the Great Depression or World War II? “Those days” that sounded so horrible but that no one could ever have a concept of if they didn’t live it, day in and day out?
If I look back on my life to this blog entry, the photos, the social media posts, or whatever serves as such nostalgia to our future, I will remember the year that my kids were in school one day and it was over the next. And not just for a week or two, like we thought it would be. Not even for the remainder of the school year, but bleeding into the next with no end yet in sight. I will remember that this horrible pandemic was something I myself had casually brushed under the rug as something that couldn’t possibly happen to the greatness of America until it had swept over us so quickly that we suddenly couldn’t go anywhere, couldn’t hug our friends, where we had to wear masks to leave the house and stay 6 feet or more from everyone we encountered. Where people became so sensitive to everything that fistfights would erupt over stupid things that didn’t matter. Where we didn’t feel like we could be human anymore, where we were stuck feeling lonely and our kids couldn’t see friends and we couldn’t eat a meal in a restaurant. We watched businesses close doors, sometimes forever, and a cough from a stranger was something we feared. You couldn’t buy toilet paper or hand sanitizer, or flour for baking, or so many other puzzling things.
And then, George Floyd died. And both before and after him, countless others. He was the one that broke the straw on the camel’s back. People had fought for injustice far too long, had spoke up but found words doing nothing but falling to the ground in only a whisper. Peaceful protest turned to violence for some, rioting and fighting and excuses for chaos for others, and the people who wanted to make a difference and change things were the easiest to silence because they were like grains of sand in a vast desert where so much work still needed to be done. People became fearful and angry and misunderstood. People were tear gassed for standing in the wrong place, people watched their businesses get destroyed, and beautiful murals expressed the heartache and power of love and hate everywhere. It became a really confusing and mournful place to live.
I found strength in new places. I worked out more, ran in the quiet of the dark hours and enjoyed every inch of the fresh air I could find. I breathed deeply in places that I could so safely. I started teaching an outdoor fitness class in a socially distanced manner and found joy in being around people again. I hadn’t realized how much I would miss people until they were taken. And now, here we were, all in the same boat, all fighting the same exhausting fight, all in the same community. Things weren’t normal, but we were finding ways around the problems of the earth to find a corner of happiness.
Then the fires started. Huge winds and forest fires. First the power went out, and then the skies darkened and turned orange. The ash came floating down and the sun was pink. Before we knew it, Oregon, my home for my entire life, was burning. Pockets of our beautiful state were on fire and we had to stand helplessly and wait to the flames to die down. There was too much to do and our heroes did all they could. Friends evacuated their homes, not knowing if they would ever return to find them still standing. People worried about their animals and livestock, their most precious possessions, and all the things they’d worked their whole lives for. Restaurants and landmarks went down in piles of burnt cinders. We made a list in our family of what to take if we had to evacuate. We were only a couple of miles from the warnings, after all, and the levels of air quality had never reached such hazardous levels. If you’ve ever had to make a list like this, you know that even the idea of it is terrifying. How do you squeeze your whole life’s memories into one vehicle? And where do you go? Our eyes were on fire and my headaches raged. I stopped running. I stopped trying so hard to be healthy. It was all too hard. My family, my kids, me. We were all unsure of what to do next. How to proceed. Where to go. What to do.
But there’s always a reason for all of life’s battles. I’ve always said that we’d never appreciate life if not for it’s hardships. And here’s what I’ve learned, and here’s what I hope to never forget.
1. Have grace. We are all going through things. My pain does not diminish yours. It’s not a competition and none of us know what others are carrying on their backs, not really. It’s time for us to be patient with others, because if not now, then when?
2. Hope is our only option. I can’t think of a single horrible thing that has ever happened that I haven’t learned a valuable lesson from. It doesn’t mean I would do everything the same way if given the chance, but there will always be a bright spot somewhere as long as you’re willing to see it. We can’t control the things that happen to us sometimes, but we can control how we react. Hope is all we really have, in the end.
3. Love who you love and leave the rest. They say life is short for a reason. Some people are meant to be in your life forever and some are not. Some are there to teach you something for a short time, and some are there for the long haul. Lean in and prioritize. You don’t have to hang onto to everything. I’ve reconnected more with many through these trying times, and learned that it’s not always the people you expect you would open yourself to so completely. It doesn’t make anyone better or worse, but we all need what we need. I wasted so much time investing in things that ultimately didn’t matter before I realized I couldn’t do it anymore, and that’s a waste of everyone’s time.
4. As outlined above, our time is precious, as are our relationships. Invest in what fills your bucket, not in things that will shoot holes in it. It’s okay to waste a day in your pajamas if it’s what you need, but you don’t have to live there. Similarly, you don’t need to be productive every day either. Give yourself a break. You’d do it for others, so don’t be so hard on yourself. Just find the joy and the rest will follow.
5. Slow down. There’s no prize for finishing first. Smell the flowers, watch the sunset, spend an uncomfortable amount of time hugging someone in your bubble, color, doodle, watch bad tv, and dance in your living room. Kiss your loved ones, including your dog. It’s worth it.
6. Technology is the root of all evil and the savior to all. Without technology, we wouldn’t be having all these Zoom meetings with family we didn’t have time for before. We wouldn’t be wasting so much time commuting to work from home either. Our kids couldn’t go to school, as awful as distance learning is. It affords us a lot. However, we need to unplug too. Play UNO and sit down at the dinner table together. Soak it in. It’s fleeting, so don’t waste it.
7. Don’t just admit you are human .. Embrace it. Really. People will still love you. If they don't, they did you a favor and you can move on.
8. Tomorrow is a new day. Don’t waste today but realize you can try again tomorrow if you need a restart.
9. Family. That is all.
10. I’m here if you need me. Reach out. Really.
Enjoy the view, even if it’s the fire that caused it. It’s the least we can do.