Over the last year I, like many, have tried to make sense of it all and I, like many, have failed.
The last year has been every cliché you’ve seen on social media or heard your mother say. It’s been a blur. It’s been one we’ll never forget. It’s been rough. It’s been quite the year to say the least.
I very vividly remember mid-March one year ago as I traveled for work per usual. I was in Ecuador for a week, but the home I left was not the home to which I returned. I was on a flight from Quito to Panama City when I received an email saying my work was going virtual. I soon learned the NBA was canceling its season. Concert tours were halting. Broadway was going dark. Schools were shutting down. Later, grocery store shelves began to empty out of fear. I remember being told to self-quarantine for two weeks because of my foreign travel. I remember being bored, thinking that period of only Facetiming with friends and not seeing anyone in person was so peculiar. I remember writing a blog post about how ridiculous it all sounded. I remember doing some research, hearing of how bad things were getting at home and abroad, and changing my opinions. I began this year in complete ignorance, just like everyone else, to how it would play out.
You would think with all this newfound time over the last year that I would have done more of the things I love. Created more. Blogged more. Photographed more. Though I have not physically done much that is worthy of sharing over the last few months, I have a chest full of stories I could have shared from my past adventures from around the world.
However, I have barely written since this all began because I’ve somehow lacked inspiration. I hear of other people feeling the same way with their passions as well–their floral arrangements taking the backseat, their cameras going unused, their pile of Legos collecting dust, or their shed in the back that is still unfinished.
I’ve been in the cycle of being fine and being desperate. I’ve been productive and then limp. I’ve lost some weight and then I’ve found it again. You can probably relate to some extent. Now, after a year in this relentless loop, I am attempting to conjure words that encapsulate what we’ve all been experiencing. I will warn you that these words may not be completely accurate for you. We’ve all had a unique perception of this hodgepodge of events. As I think about personal opinions, memories of having COVID myself, and feelings of hope as I just received the second dose of my vaccine, I know that you will not 100% agree with or relate to the things I say, but I urge you to listen. That’s the whole point.
Over the last year, we’ve become masters of virtual reality–this new normal… whatever that means. It’s the false sense of place that will hopefully soon be a fever dream.
The more we live in this dream, the more we realize that forgetting to hit the unmute button is not just a daily inconvenience in Zoom meetings, but it’s somehow becoming a symbol of this time. We’ve often forgotten how to speak and to share and to live.
We all–well, most of us at least–had a moment towards the beginning of the pandemic when we realized this COVID thing was much bigger than we originally thought. We call those types of shifts “Coming-to-Jesus” moments where I’m from. At some point, we all had an instance that drastically changed our minds. We heard of someone we knew having COVID-19 or we saw numbers start to exponentially rise in our areas or we heard of a perfectly healthy person dying on the news or we looked into actual research. That moment caused us to shift from thinking people were largely overreacting to thinking, “Oh, this is actually a big thing and we should probably take some of the precautions people keep recommending.” Most of us had that “Coming-to-Jesus” moment in the early spring. Some people somehow still haven’t had it. Several people did have that moment, but weeks later consciously decided to push it aside.
Thus, we began the motions. Staying in. Working from home if possible. Keeping our distances. Wearing masks. We also learned that people have varying levels of compliance. Some took it so seriously that they didn’t leave their houses for months while some thought the whole thing was B.S. and continued on as they normally would. There is a whole spectrum of people in between. We learned that where you fall on that spectrum can cause conflict. Some shame us for being too impossible because we refuse to see them, or we insist on guidelines that prevent comfort. Others shame us for not taking enough precautions and being too careless and self-centered. We learned that everyone’s comfort level concerning precautions is different; those differences have caused rifts between loved ones for months.
This world of rifts. This longing for normalcy. This stress of both preventing sickness and living in a wrinkled economy. This hardship of people losing loved ones while simultaneously losing jobs. It all sparked and flickered until tensions began igniting.
Then, George Floyd was tragically murdered, and his death was the dynamite that caused tensions to blow. With those tensions, hundreds of years of racial injustices added to the fire. That fire burned hot.
A lot of people decided it was time to vocalize what it’s like to be black in America–to make a lot of noise until people heard them. As a white person myself, I tried really hard to listen, and I, like many, hated what I heard. There’s so much unfairness and injustice to fix.
Remedies to injustices brought forth another slew of spectrums. Maybe you are a fierce protester in the Black Lives Matter movement, trying to be heard. Maybe you are a police officer who earnestly tries to do your job and keep people safe. Maybe you are a piece of scum who actively embraces white supremacy. Maybe you support racial change, but hate the violence often associated with change. Maybe you keep your head in the sand and don’t believe there are major race issues at all. Regardless, these spectrums continue to cause major differences of opinion too. Meanwhile, the human rights injustices persist.
Cue that dangerous game of politics. No matter what we believe politically, we have to agree that the election last year was one of the most bizarre chains of events in American history. The vast disagreements. The differences in campaigning. The rigid narratives. The historic words uttered, or in some cases, tweeted. The agonizing feeling of watching two old men who don’t agree while they fight over the TV remote.
The outcome. The long wait for clarity. The dispute on validation. The wedge that drove even deeper between opinions and perceptions. The further spiral into chaos. We watched as the country became more and more divided and more and more convicted with its opinions.
This idea has been solidifying for several years now, but it came to full fruition in the last year: there are no medium people anymore. We’re either one way or we’re the other, and we are chastised by the opposite side. Somewhere along the way, we stopped trying to work together for the greater good–from Capitol Hill to our own family members who have differences of opinions. Whether we are a Democrat, a Republican, a “non-budging conservative,” a “liberal fruitcake,” a “Trump-worshiper,” a “fence-straddler,” or somehow an archaic moderate, we find it difficult to listen. That. That fact is the driving factor (although old as life itself) that urges all the uncompromisable positions there are these days. Somehow, it’s becoming even harder to listen to each other, much less empathize with a different perspective.
And why is that? There is so much noise. This overwhelming abundance of noise is creating plenty for us to hear, and we do hear it, day in and day out.
“There’s another natural disaster there.”
“This news outlet is too one-sided.”
“______ brand has this stance so I can’t use it anymore.”
“Do you even have morals?” “Yes, that’s why I disagree with you.”
“They’re in the streets again.” “I support them but…”
“Murder hornets.” “Tiger King.” “Coin shortage.”
“We’re making so much progress on the virus.” “The cases are going up again.”
“I can’t believe he said that.”
“TikTok is getting banned.” “No it’s not.”
“This is the truth.” “No, that’s completely false.”
This lack of listening materialized on January 6, 2021 as we watched in disbelief while domestic terrorists tried to destroy the Capitol building. We asked ourselves how we got there–much like we’re asking ourselves how we’re still dealing with the same pandemic that started to alter our lives one year ago.
The truth is: over the last year, a swirling vortex of closed ears and closed minds ravaged. It fed off the pandemic. Raged swifter off injustice. It energized with fear, pain, resentment, depression, anxiety, and deceit. It roared and embellished the confusion and the chaos of it all. This vortex is so loud that it is almost impossible to hear each other–much less…listen.
Since we’ve had trouble listening, we’ve forgotten that we’re all going through some of the same things. This year has been one of depravity for everyone. We’ve all longed for normalcy and human decency, but no matter where on every spectrum we’ve fallen, we have not been able to achieve those things. We have longed for the birthdays, weddings, graduations, funerals, births, bar mitzvahs, quinceañeras, proms, baptisms, concerts, family reunions, workdays, holidays, or just simple dinners with friends the way they should properly be in order to make our lives feel whole. We’ve all been deprived. However, some of us have unspeakably lost more things than human contact: loved ones, jobs, homes, support, mental health, and even hope.
With that being said, every single person is using their past experiences (or lack thereof) to do what they think is right. They have convictions and connections that drive their every move and every thought. My challenge to us all is to listen to them.
Do not just stop talking long enough to hear someone, but actively contemplate what they have to say. Think about what could be driving them to think or speak in such a way. Is it a struggle they had that you didn’t have? Is it the best intentions or is active hate? Is it simply ignorance to an idea that they should not be judged for not having? Is there an opportunity to educate? To show compassion? To grow? Is their opinion standing on the side of human decency, or is yours, or are both?
Examine your opinion and then listen to theirs, but most importantly, re-evaluate your opinion after. This might cause you to further solidify your stance on whatever scale you’re weighing, or you might find that your opinion is more fluid than you thought.
Although I have often been lacking the words to say over this last year, I have at least had the opportunity to be quiet. I have tried to consider people’s motivations, perceptions, and intensions. I suppose that is my diamond to take away from all the hard-pressed dust of the year. I have learned that empathy is what we need now more than ever.
So, before you immediately disagree. Before you speak. Before you act. Listen.
Cheers to listening, healing, and hopefully a better year ahead.