Here in late April, 2021, we are done with the pandemic, but the pandemic certainly isn’t done with us. Around the United States and especially around the world, the pandemic is experiencing what we all hope will be its last surge. Still, many of us are starting to look at the pandemic as if it’s in the rearview mirror. But like any major life event — and in this case, it’s a major shared societal event — it’s impossible to move on without reflecting. We don’t have to look far to find pain. But intermixed as a countercurrent with this pain are lessons we can take forward with us into whatever is next. We can learn from uncertainty; we can learn from suffering; and we can learn from the enforced isolation of stay-at-home and social distancing mandates. Here are just a few of the things we can learn:
- It’s worth trying to be your best self
When the morning is a rush to get your kids to school and yourself to work and the afternoon is another rush to stuff food into all the mouths you are responsible for feeding before jetting off to sports practices or social gatherings, it’s easy to keep yourself at an arm’s length. Let’s write that just a bit differently: It’s easy to keep your “self” at arm’s length. What this means is that amid the hubbub of everyday life, you are never forced to exist long enough with yourself to understand who you really are. Then there’s the pandemic. Everything stopped. And we were all stuck with our selves. Some of us liked the person we found and some of us did not. If you’re in the latter category, it’s pretty easy to see why moving forward it’s important to continue trying to be the person your dog thinks you are. Because if you can make yourself that person — that “best self” — you will have a much easier time existing with yourself next time you’re stuck without distraction. And you just may find that even in the fast-paced post-pandemic world, striving to know and appreciate who you are can help you feel a little more centered and connected even amid distraction.
2. People need people
From musicians playing across socially-distanced balconies to neighbors waving from across the street, the pandemic showed just how much human connection matters. COVID-19 couldn’t keep us from seeking connection even if we couldn’t always scratch that itch. Many of us didn’t really appreciate that before — we coasted through the social world without realizing how central our everyday interactions were to our mental and physical health. Now as we emerge, we get to choose how to reengage with the people in our world. And many of us newly appreciate how important these connections are.
3. So many things that seemed to matter actually don’t
It’s easy for humans living in developed countries to forget how little we really need to thrive: Shelter, food, safety, connection. I’m sure there are more, but you get the point. And many of the other things we accumulate that we think will make us happy or fulfilled actually do the opposite, eroding our ability to appreciate the basics like safety and connection. The pandemic stripped many of these things away. For many of us, it even challenged our basic needs. So this “lesson” is actually twofold: First, the pandemic helped us see the frivolity of many things we thought were essential but actually turn out to be distractions; and second, the pandemic helped us understand on a visceral, creature level the importance (and sometimes the impermanence…) of some of these things we really do need.
Some of us hated isolation. Some of us at least give lip service to having enjoyed it. Knock on wood, we will never be forced to be so alone again. But we can also hope to learn from this period of isolation — we can learn lessons about our “selves” that we can carry forward into the new world. Being alone is powerful. What did you learn from isolation?
Garth Sundem is a parent, husband, and author of books including “Real Real Kids, Real Stories, Real Change”.