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The Most Unexpected of Gifts

The Most Unexpected of Gifts

Exhale.

The past year has been one full of tragedy, sorrow, depression, conflict, and a political tsunami…or three. The pandemic was unexpected, unforgiving, and terribly unrelenting, like having to trudge through a hurricane…without the benefit of two shoes or a coat with two sleeves. Shelter is quite simply unimaginable. So, it’s best not to think about it…too much.

I can only speak for Americans, being one myself. This is an America where half of our adult populace sees the other half as lacking, or wanting, and definitely “other.” Daily bold news declarations and ever-changing definitions of truth, reality, fact, or truthiness bombard us from on high. According to Wikipedia, truthiness is the belief or assertion that a particular statement is true based on the intuition or perceptions of some individual or individuals, without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts. The ever-present “truth bombs” and “You should know better than to believe anyone else-bombs” and defiant “righteousness bombs” rained down upon us like hail, or biblical toads, or locusts.

I, doing the best I could, hid behind a digital firewall, built of the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Los Angeles Lakers, CNN, MSNBC, The New York Times, The Washington Post…and the most doctorly of pandemic celebrities, Dr. Fauci. Most of my professional connections have become largely transactional, designed to be accomplished with such an economy of words that it shames me. Ordering dinner, scheduling appointments, or even hobby shopping without actually speaking with another human has become our everyday technological dystopia.

Surely the adults would arrive any minute now.

There were changes, arrivals, and departures. There was loss. Plenty of loss. We lost jobs, homes, wealth, health, and lives almost overnight…missing. Like that emergency twenty-dollar bill that one tucks into the folds of their wallets, and fast on the heels of insertion…it is spent, with promises of replacement. There were pains and pangs of jealousy and self-pity. There were embarrassment and self-doubt, even in me, the self-professed depressed intellectual and the most beautiful of losers. (Also self-professed. Also comically romantic.)

The most devastating loss we suffered was the loss of hope. Millions of fellow Americans seemed to take delight in the pain of others. Like the playground bully, should all of the parents or stroller-army nannies disappear. Community implies that one should not take joy in oppressing others…but we find this is simply not the case these days. When empathy is lost, what follows? What is the agenda? Perhaps, a steady march toward denigration and solidly placing the foot? The assumption of power surely is an unapologetic aphrodisiac.

The privilege of imposing one’s strong, somewhat dangerous views on everyone in the immediate vicinity is not a god-given right. Simply stated, everyone is entitled to their opinion — and other perspectives also matter (just as much), and neither side is diminished because of it. Let’s all simply agree to that…and sit with it for a while.

Inhale.

Now that 2020 has come to an end, I have had a minute or three to reflect on it. What I keep returning to is that, through the pain, there was also real and substantial opportunity. There was the opportunity to turn the other cheek, if so inclined. There was the opportunity to right wrongs and speak truth to dishonesty. There was the opportunity to stand up and be counted. Opportunity to spend more time with friends and family — in person, by phone, or virtually. Opportunity for expansive growth. A chance to reset and reevaluate what we are doing or can do, now that we are free of the ritual demands of old. There was also a chance to (unabashedly) day drink and take meetings in pajama bottoms. There was an opportunity…for change.

Adapt.

Round and round, with endless rebound. Slowly, we adapted, as humans tend to do. We started to figure out how to get through massive unemployment, death, grief, panic, uncertainty, and anxiety. We found a way to move numbingly forward.

We held a mirror up and were forced to make a real reckoning. Is this all of me? Is this really all there is? Does my status truly define me? Is this shell, this superficial masque I wear privately and publicly, quite simply…all that I am?

(A mask is a covering for a part or whole of the face, while a masque is a form of entertainment, often involving performers wearing masks. Going forward, my preference will be for masque…because I find this hilarious.)

Stripping away the layers does genuinely reveal. All of our personal and professional insecurities were laid bare for everyone to see, on overwhelming public display. Be it political bickering or absent-minded apathy, somewhere along our paths, we lost our way. Everyone being tossed together into the same sea of confusion, pain, fear, and mistrust…has forced an empathetic truce, at least for some. Personally, I will never take for granted the simple things in life, like slipping out to a movie with my kid or grabbing a bit of lunch in town with my wife. Dinner with friends? Shopping? Hugs? All terribly missed. Even with my masque. (See? Hilarious.)

Rebuild.

Necessity being the mother of invention has never been more accurate. There were and continue to be technological leaps. Although we had video calls and virtual meetings before the pandemic, the business community believed that widespread adoption was still years away. New digital technology for brainstorming, creativity, and stable remote-access, has breathed new life into our economy. I suppose we can say that this mother showed up right on time.

Once again, the artists (practical, technical, whimsical, and diligent) stepped up, creating new outlets for expression and connection. Strengthening the ties that bind all of us. Offering an alternative view.

We painted our entertainment venues in red light for the #wemakeevents groundswell. We painted our homes and offices in blue light to support our fierce essential workers. Waved flags and fists. We honked horns, clapped, and stood in protest. We marched and kicked and screamed and cried, and…pushed forward…because we are passionate creators and professionals, and amateurs and students and children and adults and he, she, him, her, they, them…and everything in between, and everything under the sun.

Those of us that could get away from the city got the hell away. Those of us who could not, held the front lines with sacrifice, blood, sweat, tears, volunteering, cheering, beer’ing, distancing, and keeping it real.

Reflect.

There’s a light now. I see it, feel it. I share it. I champion it. There is real momentum building…and look at who just walked back into the room, HOPE. Hello, old friend.

These nutty days have definitely taken me down rabbit holes of anger, doubt, and incredulous jaw-dropping confusion. BUT — upon reflection, I did manage to find a pebbly shore for my drifting boat. Time.

This pause has given me more free time than I ever had, at any point, ever. The extra time spent with family and friends rejuvenates me and fosters better connection. The extra time spent with our teenage daughter shined a light on our familial bond and strengthened it. Frustrations fell away, and empathy gathered. How could it not? As adults, we have been trained to rush from one thing to the next, eyes open until eyes shut, afraid the world might pass us by for lack of hustle or spunk. We often saw our coworkers more than our actual families. So, having to slow down a bit and spending more time together as a family unit — really seeing each other, has been a blessing.

The semi-automatic, “How was your day?” has been replaced with, “I love hearing you practice the ukulele” or catching up on the latest teenager-fueled Tik-Tok trends. (That’s all the kid’s doing. I barely know how to Tik a Tok.)

Having more insight into daily routines and experiencing real personal growth is precious. We love it, quite simply, and would not change one minute of this found time. I believe this is the secret many of us are keeping inside. Maybe the guilt will outweigh this simple delight one day, but for now, I find it hard to give up. This speaks volumes (screams even) of my personal privilege, and I try to address that every day.

This time has been a mirror that I so desperately needed…it framed my personal narrative and painted a picture of who I had become. Not a harsh reality by any means, but…there could have been more. Though I found the reflection true and unforgiving, I also insist that it does not get to determine the path for me. This moment, this fleeting, crazy reality, is not be allowed to define me. There’s just too much to lose. I am too complex for that. I am too strong for that. I have put too much energy into overcoming doubts, bias, and conformity, to ever acquiesce or tacitly accept an unwelcome position. I plan to keep swinging away, and although I may not be able to hit that wicked slow-pitch curveball out of the park, I will always be ready to step up to the plate.

This pause has allowed me to find a professional and deeply personal inner strength. It reminds me of a handwritten quote (mantra?) I had taped to my office computer for many years, “Adversity? I have no time for adversity. I am probably the strongest person that you know.” I don’t remember who the author was, or if this was just one of the mad rantings that I would scribble in my ever-present blank notebooks many years ago. It was my irrefutable truth then and doubly so today. My masque is steadfast, sincere, and unbreakable, embodied by an insightful glance, a touch of (knowingly) ribald humor, and, dare I say, sagacious and mirthful delight.

The discovery of it feels like sharing lame jokes and often repeated stories with old friends…who know all of the punchlines yet still allow the (ahem) brief digression. This has been the most unexpected of gifts.

Exhale.


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