Earlier this week, I had Mike Rowe’s podcast playing in my car while I was running errands. I tend to like most of what he does, and I wound up just sitting in the car at my destination to finish listening to this particular episode (which, for the record, was #173: Visiting Hours).
Without giving too much away (because it’s worth a listen) the episode focuses on the idea that letters from home are one of the lifelines soldiers hold onto when they’re deployed in foreign territory, far away from everything they know. It underscores an idea I’ve talked about before, which is that written communications hold a special place in our relationships.
Then, today, I saw a Facebook post where a friend asked, “what has 2020 meant to you, in one word?” My own word came readily to mind, but I was genuinely curious to see how others responded to this question. This has been such an odd year. We’re all out of sorts, and most of us are living with changes that we would never have envisioned one short year ago.
I wondered how much positive and negative I would see in those words. It’s been a difficult year all around, but some of us have had a harder time than others. I have friends who’ve suffered the loss of loved ones or struggled with major health issues themselves, have lost their jobs or businesses, or have had to reconfigure their lives in very significant ways. And the rest of the world has not stopped spinning in the meantime—they’re managing these things in a world that has seen major social and political strife, plus a worldwide pandemic that has changed the way all of us live.
Many of the responses showed that people are still struggling. Word choices included: chaos, crazy, insane, hard, challenging. (Most of us would probably describe this year that way, at least in part.) I also saw some heartening words, like hope, perseverance, priorities, introspection—things that indicate people are taking time to examine what matters and are stripping away the things that no longer serve them.
My word, for the record, was adjustment. For me (thus far, since the year’s not over) the most substantial adjustment has been in my professional life. For the first time in nearly 20 years, my contract work all but disappeared, which made a major impact on family finances. Decisions had to be made, and it became clear that I’d need to look for a job outside the home.
I had to do a little mourning first, because I really loved that time and hated to see it end. Those years encompassed the entirety of my children’s childhood. Self-employment had allowed me to be present in a way I might not have been otherwise—I was with my kids every day of those years. We were able to homeschool them all the way through their academic career until they each took early college admission. (And for the record, homeschooling was nothing like it is in this moment. I think all the parents who are doing it right now because of school closures have a much more difficult task in front of them than I ever did. It’s made a thousand times harder when your options to meet, and to get out and explore the world are so limited.)
Here’s what has been the most shocking thing about beginning anew: I am enjoying it. Yes, it’s been crazy. Yes, it’s been hard. And YES, it’s been an adjustment. But it’s also been a wonderful lesson in finding hidden blessings. It’s been an opportunity to interact and enjoy people I might never have met otherwise. It’s taught me that I am up to the challenge of doing something that frightened me.
I had to start over in a major way, but I didn’t do it alone. One of the things that made me understand I was up to the challenge were the communications from my friends and family. Their words, telling me that I could manage what felt unmanageable, were an armor against uncertainty and self-doubt.
We can do this for each other, you know. I for you, and you for me. And all of us for others.
We can throw each other lifelines.