In the not-too-distant future, should we all survive, there will be many moments such as this: During interviews and applications for jobs and graduate schools, first dates and meeting-the-parents, or any of the other myriad situations where we attempt to explain and justify our past decisions to others. They will spot something in our history. An employment gap, or an entire career change. A business founded or closed down. A move to a different city, or away from cities altogether. A breakup or divorce. Some other radical shift in life direction. They will start to ask, what was that about? Why did you do that? And then they will notice the date.
And there will be no further questions asked.
If you look around the circle of your friends and love ones, you can check off on the 2020 scorecard. Who do you know who caught it? Do you know anyone who died? What other disaster has struck your circles, or been averted? Amongst my nearest and dearest has been one COVID recovery, one overseas repatriation, one suicide, one layoff, one disrupted college career, one breakup, one reconciliation, two puppy adoptions, and uncountable remodeling projects, bubble-wrapped elders, and business pivots.
When did you notice we had started to refer to it as “The Virus”? When did you notice we had started to refer to “Before The Virus” and “Since The Virus” and “After The Virus” in the way our grandparents used to talk about wars?
Right now is During the Virus. The Virus is now a time, and it is a time of unknown duration, and we are living inside that time. And nothing is the same as it was, and nothing is the same as it will be.
So what do we do?
2020: The Ultimate Disruptor
I have asked this question and been asked this question, so many times in so many ways, for seven months. We acknowledge the inconceivable level of uncertainty. Our distorted sense of place and time. The bizarro worldwide reality of mutually finding ourselves in a place none of us have ever been. With no compass and no map. We have talked the strangeness to death. And it remains strange.
The virus is strange. The economy is strange. The complete breakdown of US democracy is strange. The abrupt tipping point on long-simmering racial injustice, erupting in the midst of this compound crisis is strange. The politicization of community safeguards is strange. The police violence in our neighborhoods is strange. The choking wildfires are strange.
The many ways the world in 2020 has tried to keep us from breathing is disturbingly strange.
Some of us had everything working just fine and perfectly on track, before 2020 blew up our plans. For some of us, lucky or clever or opportunistic people, this is all just new possibilities.
Back in March, back before the world ran out of toilet paper and bleach wipes, back before the normal became impossible and the impossible became normal… I didn’t have it figured out. I was riding out of some significant ups and downs that had me shaken and rethinking everything. And then the pandemic showed up like a global game of freeze tag.
Freeze in Place
It has never been so forgivable or so forgiving to freeze in place. Self-employed business owners have never had such a roster of resources, government money ready to pay us what our clients can’t. Evictions are frozen and mortgages forborn. Loans are cheap. Taxes are delayed. There has never been such a time, when the whole world has begged us to be quiet. Please. Stay home, cover your face, bake bread, grow vegetables, take quiet long walks alone, and be patient.
But after seven months… As the fires burn out, and the vegetable gardens die off, and we face lonely and quiet holidays apart from the grandparents who mustn’t be touched and the superfluous gifts and the redundant baked goods, and the hope that hinges on next Tuesday which will be at least two weeks long.
Surely many of us are asking the question. What next? What now?
Morning by Morning
I’ve online shopped for camper vans and local condos and houses in different cities and looked up which countries are still allowing Americans. I’m starting to line up work again, with completely different people on completely different projects, in different timezones, in cities I can imagine living in one day, when it feels like we are free to move about. I’ve rearranged my office and resumed wearing mascara, because of the video calls. But for now, I stay moment by moment, morning by morning. My house is too big. My dog is too old. My to-do list is forever, but I have run out of things to look forward to. Life is both too simple and too hard.
If I’ve figured anything out, and I’d rather not pretend that I have, it’s that this is the time and the year to embrace uncertainty. There is so much forgiveness in the world right now. No one expects anyone to know where you see yourself in 2025.
We have the grace to not know. What we want, what we will do, where we will go. This is our glistening silver lining. And it sparkles like a full moon.
Artwork © Laura Pretto Vargas