“A time to gain, a time to lose, A time to rend, a time to sew, A time for love, a time for hate, A time for peace, I swear it's not too late.”
- Pete Seeger
Something became visible during 2020 in parts of India. For the first time in over 30 years, due to the abrupt halt in economic activity, the staggering and majestic beauty of the Himalayan Mountains came into view. This actually serves as a perfect metaphor for our own lives; perhaps something magical (that was actually there all along) will be revealed to us when the smog of all this turmoil lifts? In fact, yes! Despite the enormous challenges we continue to live with, the events of this tumultuous year might be a chance to patiently and meticulously use a fine-toothed comb to look deeper and find the ways our lives changed for the better in 2020.
The pandemic caused an awakening of sorts, forcing us to open our eyes to all the goodness that was present in our lives, but also what we stood to lose. This is a silver lining that I believe will stay deep in our collective consciousness: we are better people today because of what we all faced together yesterday.
“Love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.”
Perhaps we can best describe the massive loss of life and of liberty experienced in 2020 with this beautiful quote from the poet Khalil Gibran. Social distancing, as a way of life, has disrupted not only our outer life but it has also possibly caused a disturbance in our souls. The pandemic also caused many of us to inadvertently recognize that we had taken many things in life for granted, especially our social relationships.
This last year, most of us were either directly or indirectly affected by the suffering and tragedy caused by the pandemic, the extreme social and political upheaval across the globe and the ongoing economic crisis caused by whole industries that have been hobbled.
Now that we have a vaccine, there is some hope; yet, we can no longer deny that the pandemic altered our world for good. The dystopia of living in a world with a contagion feels like we are stuck in the worst-case scenario disaster movies we once considered science fiction. Indeed, in America, we are in the middle of a worst-case scenario: our infection and death rates are skyrocketing, and we still don’t have any real idea what the future will hold for us.
This year, the deeply ingrained inequality of America’s racist past came to a shocking head as the cauldron of tensions boiled over and spilled onto the streets after the murder of George Floyd in police custody. The violence and mayhem that ensued demanded addressing injustice in a magnitude not seen since the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.
The Revolution: Moving toward a Brighter Future Together
We are connected to each other this year, not only through heart-breaking losses but also through acts of bravery, kindness and solidarity in the community. It was clear as people played music, sang songs to cheer one another up and applauded health workers from balconies and windows in many cities across the world. We found courage through these acts of unity.
When time came for a change in ways that roused the heart and spirit, people worldwide rose to meet that change. At rallies, demonstrations and protests, people as far away as the Middle East painted murals depicting Floyd along with his last words, which have now become an anthem for oppression, “I can’t breathe.”
As a people, we have now lived through trauma together, and this is also our connection - it gives us the support and tools to help us recover.
A Time to Talk
When was the last time you made time to have an open discussion with your family, friends or co-workers? Sometimes just asking a few simple questions, “How are we all coping? Does anyone need help?” is the perfect opening.
Talking about our pain and discomfort collectively can ease the burden of isolation we all feel. Try to set up a weekly get-together on Zoom or FaceTime with friends who you cannot see and allow this to be a special time and place where you can take turns sharing. Creating this outlet can also take the stress off other areas of your life such as family or work, even if you are only sharing your frustrations – letting others know it's okay to feel weary and just decompress is profoundly healing.
While we have all been in some ways, courageous in the face of such uncertainty, there has been research published that we now need a new type of courage – the courage to face our own frailties and acknowledging the frailties of our partners, families and colleagues, too.
Being a strong and loving support system means that others can come to us when they are depressed, burned out, afraid or feeling overwhelmed. It might seem like a lot to put on our plate to feel responsible for others, but, in fact, it can give us greater confidence and assurance in our own abilities to know that we have enough strength to let someone else lean on us.
At a time in our lives when we have limited access to health care, and especially mental health care, we learned the technique of “self-soothing.” One of the best ways we can implement self–soothing is by keeping our emotional gauge finely tuned. When you feel upset, angry, afraid or overwhelmed, develop a three-step soothing plan such as this one:
1. Acknowledge what you are feeling and that it’s okay to put an emotional label on it, such as irritation or worry.
2. Realize that you might not have all the answers to what might be causing it or even how to get rid of it.
3. Have a list of things that you know alleviate stress and immediately go to the best-feeling option, no matter how small or insignificant: a bath, calling a friend, going for a walk, having a cup of tea, watching a TV show
We might not have all the answers to how to move forward with the world in 2021, but we can find some solace in knowing that we are capable of finding them.
By: Jyoti Paintel, Spirituality Contributor