THE EXHAUSTING, THE BIZARRE, THE CHALLENGING, THE UNCERTAIN
A YEAR WE WEATHERED TOGETHER - HOPEFULLY STILL AFLOAT
A year ago... though perhaps you too have found time less measurable this past year. My time landmarks have felt out of place, my sense of direction distorted. Many of us may be reflecting around now on the unexpected nature of this past year.
It’s been a year of many things, and while it’s more than any one of us could summarize, I believe it's worth unpacking together, as imperfectly as that process will be. While it’s of course so many different things to each of us, there’s a more shared experience underneath it all than most of us have ever experienced in years past.
This year we learned to distance ourselves from those around us while also asking strangers how their families were faring, actually listening to their answers with a new kind of compassion.
It’s been a year of fear and uncertainty, sadness, anger, and resentment. A year of reinventing, reorganizing, and reframing. A year where some felt miserably lonely and others felt miserably crowded inside houses or apartments that suddenly became the office, the daycare, the schoolroom, and the isolation shelter - often feeling more hostage-like than “cozy.”
I felt at times that I was floating out at sea, mostly face up, and I wonder how many others also felt this way. I didn’t feel much energy to swim, to make waves, or to chart new courses to thrilling adventures. I felt I had enough energy to float. A friend wisely reminded me, “Floating means you’re not sinking.” I often have this sense for the young people I work with at school. It’s been enough to not sink.
Too many around us did in fact sink, sadly yet understandably. Maybe it’s taken all our efforts not to (or maybe at times we feel we were). The waves have been strong, the sky has felt it would always stay dark, and neither land nor lighthouses were clearly in sight. The long haul nature of this time without a timeline seemed to involve just too much breath holding. If all you did was floated, and you’re still afloat, I believe you’ve done more than enough.
If you were following this blog before last March, you likely noticed the change in activity, as in the significant lack of activity here, this past year. While I have somewhere around 10 articles in various stages of writing, I just couldn’t allocate the energy to take them to completion. I read a wonderful piece on “motivational paralysis” during this time that helped put a name to what I’ve felt. I decided that there were some things I couldn’t keep expecting myself to produce. My energy was being siphoned off by all the programs running in the background - pandemic, politics, violence, loss… Keeping myself and my family together was more than enough.
There absolutely have been gifts from this time. Hopefully we’ve all found at least some small ones - perhaps enjoying some of the extra time with family who otherwise would have been running in five different directions to ten different activities, or connecting with friends and family in video calls, something so common now but likely much less prominently featured in our lives before. Maybe you had more time to read or bake. Likely, several new personal “seasons” came in waves as we all worked to make the best of these strange times.
During a somewhat brief, but memorable, period early on in quarantine, I was riding my bike with our kids through the neighborhood and was shocked to find Miami suddenly resemble a small town. People I’d never seen before were out walking (for a while even waving at us!), sitting in lawn chairs in front of their houses, and children were playing in the street. This is not something I thought I’d ever see in my always busy car-centered hometown. It felt beautifully bizarre.
It’s also been a time of tremendous education for me and perhaps for you too. Like many white Americans, I thought I was pretty aware of racism and its terrible effects, past and present. This year I learned how much more I had to learn. I will forever be grateful for this national wake up call, and also forever saddened that it took such violence and pain to shove it to the forefront of the glazed eyes of our nation’s dominating culture.
The discomfort so many white Americans felt simply affirming that "Black Lives Matter" is a testament to the problem at large. Many want to believe it’s overkill to keep saying that phrase, but the truth is that white America simply will never know what it’s like to fear that their lives do not matter. White Americans have normalized the entitlement that everything about their lives matters, and can hardly imagine otherwise. It’s extremely difficult to admit that there are layers upon layers of implicit bias, likely not of our conscious choosing, that automatically color our view of “people of color.” No one wants to be labeled “racist,” yet few want to face the still current realities of racism.
The elephant in our country's living room didn’t bother white America much before - in fact, some have wondered why non-white America “complained” there wasn’t enough room for everyone to get comfortable. This year, more white Americans were challenged to see the elephant, name it, and call for its release. It’s not out the door yet though. Figurative walls will still need to come down to get it out, and there are still so many white Americans that have made themselves comfortable again. The larger pandemic of racism in our nation was exposed during this year. I would wager that some among us see it as a “scamdemic” even more than they saw the coronavirus as one. Again, I recommend 13th. It’s information all Americans should know to claim citizenship.
This, by the way, is not “talking politics.” Of course it has been politicized - anything uncomfortable to discuss can be avoided as “too political.” This is about the bodies and the livelihoods of people, not parties. Hopefully this year has taught us not to sideline anything so central to the health and well-being of our country, as it will only infect us all further.
I believe this year challenged us to be courageously curious, compassionate, and uncomfortable. Just like with medicine and science, we must pay attention and learn to listen, not perpetuate the sickness of dominance and domineering that denial and pervasive whiteness spreads - that would be racist.
This year has been exhausting. Too much to think about. Too much to learn. Too much to worry about. Too much and not enough. Caution fatigue is a real thing. We all got tired. There was understandable resentment - for the loss of social interactions, jobs, livelihoods, expectations, and simple bearings. Did it matter if I always wore my mask? What if I calculated the risk and decided it was worth the gamble? I live with a doctor whose sister is a doctor, and even with all the research, statistics, and firsthand accounts, there were still times it felt hard to discern exactly the right thing to do and tempting to believe it was just all a very bad dream.
We probably all know people who survived and now have antibodies. We also likely know people who suffered greatly or who didn’t survive. We each have different experiences of this time, but we likely all know at least some of what we all experienced.
So many reflections still to come. Perhaps so many reactions yet to come. As you might expect, I also have a few (thousand) words on school and children during this time. But let’s stop for now. It’s been a year. There aren’t enough adjectives to put in front of that word “year.” And it’s not neatly wrapped in a bow for its anniversary. There are still so many questions, perhaps first among them are, “What now?” and “What’s next?”
I received my first vaccine shot in the beginning of the month. I cried when I was able to schedule my parents’ first shot last month. There are so many questions. And there are still too many suffering - physically, emotionally, mentally…
Remembering, reflecting, and readjusting hopefully means we take this past year to help us grow individually and collectively into a new year of better personal and societal health. I hope everyone reading is still afloat and giving yourself permission to be, without excess expectation, and with a new solidarity we can bring with us into this next experience, together.
- Christen Parker-Yarnal
I invite you to share your thoughts and reflections - send me a message
MAIN Author: CHRISTEN PARKER-YARNAL