We had our first measurable snow in Iowa early this week. It’s only mid-October but the snow and cold felt like winter. I rather enjoy it in its season, but I love October more. The colors, the trees, the crisp air that calls for sweaters, football…I’ve always been an October person.
Everything this year is out of season.
The October snowfall fits with the pattern of things not happening on schedule, or even at all in 2020. Some kids are now returning to their classrooms after the world’s longest spring break. I haven’t been in my work office since March 16. My alma mater and the Big 10 will begin their football season today and the Masters Golf Tournament will be held in November, not April. The structure that seasons provide to the turning of the year provides us with some certainty.
However, I think that we can say that the only certain thing about this year so far is that there is more uncertainty in our lives than many of us have ever known.
I have never spent so much time at home in my life. The news cycle has been somewhere between a political thriller and a trailer for a made-for-TV disaster movie. It’s hard to find anyone in the world who hasn’t lived through their own versions of this script. And, has anyone noticed that The Onion, a satirical media outlet, has thrown up its collective hands and said, “I got nothing on reality.”
Families have not been able to gather to grieve their losses of loved ones in the timing that we are used to. Healing and closure is delayed or nonexistent. And now that we’re a week away from November, we are facing the reality of homebound holidays on our own.
It’s also highly likely that we won’t know the winners on Election Night as we have for decades. In a year when Covid has completely upended the planned structure of our lives, it shouldn’t surprise us that this general election, with all of its divisiveness and so much riding on the outcome, is not our norm.
This time is frightening and upsetting for a host of reasons, financial insecurity, job insecurity, food insecurity, and feeling insecure for our civil rights and health, and for others. It also demonstrates how swiftly our lives can change. I hope that there is at least some reckoning for greater understanding and humility from those of us who have had the luxury of feeling secure before this all happened. Because the “normal” of pre-pandemic life was certainly not working for everyone and now many who never needed to give much thought to a good job and the ability to feed and house our families are facing what others have been dealing with all along.
Of course we are collectively experiencing a dramatic rise in mental health issues – situational anxiety, depression, panic attacks. There is no doubt that this is an extraordinarily stressful time. Perhaps, this too will also foster some understanding and appreciation for those of us who have been living with these mental health issues long before March 2020. Others are getting a taste of what those of us who live with mental illness and disorders deal with all the time.
The effects of this time will change us. Or not. Many of us will return to feeling secure rather quickly and the lessons of this time will be unlearned and forgotten. Many will never develop a sense of compassion and care for the greater good. The fear will keep their minds closed and they will return to “normal” with a scarred and hardened heart.
But, as writer Arundhati Roy has suggested, this time is a portal between then and now. We can see this as an opportunity to take stock and reset. Just as charity shops and second-hand stores have seen donations of clothing and household items skyrocket as homebound people clear out unwanted items, we can do this for ourselves. Roy suggests that we think about the attitudes, systems, and patterns of thinking that are better left behind and encourages our going forward from here with less fear, a sense of clarity about what’s important, and only those things from the past that continue to serve us well.
I encourage you to consider what you have learned this year about yourself and your place in the world. What are those behaviors, traditions, relationships, and values that you will take forward? And, what are the beliefs, practices, and maybe even people, best left here? Will your heart be softer or further closed? Will you let go of fear long enough to hope? Will you move from scarcity-thinking to abundance? The truth we have learned is that the things we have counted on to be certain, are actually quite frail. Perhaps we should start with learning how to live better with uncertainty.