There’s Light at the End of the Tunnel: Some thoughts on the last year

Early 2020 feels like a lifetime ago. A lifetime when we hung out with friends and neighbors several times a week. A lifetime when we felt free to plan vacations to faraway places we’ve never been before. We were working through our oldest kid’s anxiety over performing on stage in front of hundreds of people for her first dance competition season and searching for the best ways for our youngest kid to make friends outside of our homeschool bubble.

And then the world collapsed.

Okay, maybe that’s a little dramatic, but all at once everything was canceled and we had nowhere to go. In an instant, our world turned upside down.

As a family, we most intensely felt the loss of dance competitions. Our oldest had worked for months preparing dances for her first competition season. To work for something so hard and then to lose it was the hardest thing she had ever experienced in all of her life.

But in many ways, it was nice to just clear the calendar for a while. To have nowhere to go and no one to see felt like the ultimate staycation. We had a house full of food-and toilet paper-and an amazing yard to play in. With my husband working from home, our likelihood of coming into contact with any virus was very low. And yet, despite the fact that we could seclude ourselves into our little cocoon, we felt anxiety like never before.

Like most of the country, I did too much scrolling, reading too many stories about people’s near-death experiences with Covid. At one point I woke up in a panic attack, sure that I couldn’t breath, convinced that this coughing fit attacking me in the middle of the night was the disease ravaging bodies all over New York-and in Boston too. I’ll never really know what caused that spell; too much news is the likely culprit.

With the loss of his commute, we struggled with finding balance in our home. It couldn’t be a true staycation if he was on phone calls all day. What used to be our quiet home had now become his office, where meetings were nonstop and constant chatter ensued.

When our church closed right before Holy Week, the reality of deep loss set in. We had been searching for years for a church home. We had barely been there a year and now it had been swooped away from us. They pivoted to online worship, but music and the Word weren’t why we went to church. Holy Communion and the people were. We could sing songs and read the Bible at home whenever we wanted. It was the gathering that made church important to us. The gathering itself was where we most found God and it felt impossible to feel that same holiness through a screen. Our pastor made great connections between this wilderness we found ourselves in and the journey of Lent, but as Holy Week and Easter approached, our sense of loss grew even more profound.

I withdrew from my friends and turned to books and hiking instead. I discovered hiking was one of the few ways I could get outside with no fear of seeing anyone-until everyone discovered that same thing and all of our hiking trails closed as well. Our house sits up against protected wetlands and I became incredibly grateful for our little spot in the woods. We learned the trails behind us and found solace in getting outside and breathing fresh air, all while staying far away from any other human being.

Sometime in May when people started working in their yards, we spent some time talking to our next door neighbor about summer vacations. People were beginning to tentatively plan again-but not me-I didn’t want to plan a thing. I became more spontaneous than ever before, staying up until midnight one night in July, searching for a cabin for a weekend getaway. The closest one we could find was a 6-hour drive so we loaded up the van and headed to western NY, and made some of the best memories of 2020 in a little cabin in the woods. With nothing around but wild raspberries and birds, it felt like the perfect getaway to just breathe. And be.

By then we were wearing masks and tensions everywhere were high. We hated wearing masks, but embraced them anyway, as a way to stand in solidarity with our fellow humans. As a way to say “I see you. I care for you. I’m willing to sacrifice my own comfort for your sake.” We knew people who didn’t feel the same way. People who said, “masks are useless, so what’s the point?” People who refused to wear masks because they wanted to exercise their freedom to breathe fresh air. People who refused to go anywhere because they didn’t want their kids to wear a mask over their face. “Kids should be free to be kids. We don’t want them afraid of germs. Germs are a part of life.”

These weren’t just people we read about on the internet. These were real people in our lives. Friends. Acquaintances. Even a family member or two. We felt lucky that our immediate neighbors all seemed to feel the way we did. If they had strong opinions about masks, they didn’t voice them, and we allowed our kids to play maskless only with the kids who lived next door.

Now here we are, almost exactly one year later, and while some things have changed, we’re still finding ourselves mostly in a time of seclusion. While many people have found technology a great way to connect, we’ve discovered it only leaves us longing. Longing for hugs. Longing for interaction. Longing to break bread with others. To run around together free and uninhibited. Longing for the kind of connection that just can’t happen through a screen.

We find ourselves in a group of people uneligible for a vaccine until later this Spring. Our lives aren’t high-risk enough; we are too healthy. We know this is a good thing, but when we see stories of friends and family being vaccinated-when we see their pictures with captions like “one day sooner”-we can’t help but feel a little jealous. We fear life resuming to normal without us. We put our lives on hold for the sake of others and yet here we are, lives still mostly on hold, while others begin to gather with one another for connections like the ones we deeply long for. We know the time will come when we will be vaccinated too and we work to put our jealousy in check, reminding ourselves that we are incredibly privileged to be last in line.

It’s hard for me to say if I would change anything if I had to do it all over again. I’m not sure I would. We didn’t live the year entirely in seclusion. We had family visit us in MA, and we traveled to WV to meet my parents for a week just before Thanksgiving. We continued having dinner with our most trusted friends—although not as regularly as before—and we had many outdoor playdates, no matter the season. We made our kids’ activities the main priority and prioritized friendships with the people they were already spending significant amounts of time with.

With every decision we made, we tried to weigh the risk. Sometimes the risk of not doing the thing was stronger than the risk of the virus itself. We learned to communicate our fears. We learned to stand up for ourselves and for our family. We learned which friends would understand our fears and wait for us to feel ready to gather again. And we learned that there are always new friends to be made, even in a time of crisis.

We can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Our oldest finally had her first dance competition earlier this month and although the theater was mostly empty, it felt good to sit in seats and watch dancers on a stage. I’m starting to wake up to dream about when we might gather in groups again. We’re looking forward to summer. It’s when our best memories are made here in New England. Long days spent in our backyard hammocks and at the beach. But first we have to make it through Spring. Spring in New England can be beautiful or vicious. Most years it’s a little of both.

I never dreamed that we’d spend another Holy Week and Easter without our church community. Our church isn’t quite ready to worship together yet — even masked and outside — so I put together some ideas to make Easter a celebratory affair, even though the last thing we want to do is celebrate another Easter at home.

A Blessing for Holy Week

As we prepare to enter into the holiest of weeks in the Christian faith, may you take the time to remember your losses, may you remember the quiet of those dark three days, and may you forever rest in the hope that Easter is coming.

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Crystal Rowe

Crystal Rowe

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