It has been a year since COVID stopped us in our tracks...a year of loss, isolation and death... a terrible year. And yet. It has also been a year in which people somehow managed. A year in which we stayed connected, kept the stocks shelved, and kept many businesses afloat, against all the odds. Think of all the adaptions you yourself made this year, all the unprecedented ways you coped. As we mark a year of solemn loss, I would also like to mark a year of human adaptation and fortitude. With gratitude, let’s talk about all the ways people rocked this year.
Last March, as the world shuttered, I feared that I would lose my job, my psychology practice of 20 years. My work is seeing and talking to people. Clients shuffle in, anxious, sad, exasperated, or joyful. We sit directly across from each other. We smile, laugh, and cry, face to face in a smallish room. Sometimes voices get raised in anger or anguish. Previously, this office felt safely intimate. Suddenly, my office seemed like a COVID incubator.
“I will be lucky to survive this,” I worried. “I will try teletherapy, but how many clients are going to want that? Half at most?”
Dutifully, I emailed clients, offering the link for teletherapy, hoping for the best. I prepared for the first home session, far away from my office, wearing a clean shirt and a little makeup. I am no tech wiz. Could I do this? Could teletherapy actually help clients? I blinked at the screen, smiling when the first client came online. It was good to see her face again. “Can you hear me?”
“I can hear you. Can you see me?
Despite my concerns, almost every client transitioned easily into teletherapy. They didn’t like it as much as being in person, missing the intangible comfort of physical presence. Still, there were advantages. Clients didn’t have to drive to sessions, so it took less time. Scheduling became a breeze as clients could easily see me during a work break. Plus, I got to meet some adorable dogs and cats.
Even in the darkness, there is light. Think of all the ways that people have adapted in this terrible year. Everyone has suffered, some immeasurably more than others. There has been egregious loss of life, on-going disability, economic despair, losses of business. In writing, I do not minimize this suffering. I’m not saying it’s been good. I’m not saying it’s been ok.
Still, people have been remarkable. Like the tiny shoots of tulips, currently poking up for spring, people found their way toward the light, feeling toward warmth through the blanket of despair.
Teachers pivoted on a dime, learning how to teach online. Lesson plans were thrown out and recreated. They worked valiantly to connect with students across the screen. They even learned how to simultaneously teach online and in person. My husband, director of a large continuing education (CE) program, cancelled 200 in-person workshops but quickly replaced them with 250 webinars. He and his staff executed this massive change in just a few weeks. Surprisingly, attendance improved. It turned out that people like doing their CE classes online.
Parents worked from home, completing their work while simultaneously supervising their children. And by parents, (forgive me, dads) I pretty much mean moms. Moms ROCKED this year. They managed to keep their jobs, often working into the night so that they could get their kids outside for a family bike ride. Working moms raised multi-tasking to a spectacular height this year.
Restaurants figured out how to serve outside. Tables were set up on sidewalks and alleyways. When winter came, some restaurants placed individual tables in their own igloo tents, so that diners could safely eat outside, warm and cozy, with no dangerous exposure to others.
Then there were the Zooming grandmas. Grandparents all over the country were unable to see their precious grandchildren for a year. Undeterred, they got online, downloaded a weird program called Zoom, and we all entered a whole new world:
(Grandma is on screen, mouth moving, but with no sound and only the top of her head visible.)
“Grandma, we can’t hear you. You are muted. Unmute yourself.”
(Grandma – looking a little confused, mouth moving and arms flailing.)
“GRANDMA, hit the unmute button on the bottom. Also, please adjust the screen because we can’t see you.”
“. . . OK, can you hear me now?”
“Yes, great, how are you Grandma, we miss you so much!”
(Yelling into the other room) “Bob, they can hear us. Bob! Bob! Bring me my coffee, OK? And did you check the mail?”
“Grandma, please stop yelling. Now we can hear everything...”
People adapted. It happened bit by bit. We went from isolation and fear to wearing masks and. . . figuring it out. We couldn’t go on vacations, so we planted rose bushes and finally repainted our kitchens. We couldn’t go to theaters, so we watched Netflix and finished jigsaw puzzles. We couldn’t meet with friends, so we Facetimed, or shouted pleasantly to our neighbors.
We adopted dogs. (Dogs had the best year ever.)
We did our best to maintain hope and to lift each other up. When exhausted health care workers completed their hospital shifts, quarantined people banged pots out their windows in thanks. People serenaded nurses, singing arias off their balconies or playing their dusted-off trumpets.
When the vaccine first arrived, many people were skeptical. “I’m not getting that vaccine,” I heard from clients. “They can’t make me get it. I just don’t trust it.”
Undeterred, doctors and nurses signed up for the shot. The same health care workers, who had already saved us, now saved us again, demonstrating the safety of the shot by filming themselves getting vaccinated. Public opinion started to shift, and people adapted again.
“I can’t wait to get my vaccine. Why is it taking so long?” became the new refrain.
I know this has been a terrible year. Some people were reckless and uncaring about other’s health, inflicting great harm. All that is true. The optimist in me, the grateful me, wants to notice and remember all the people who did wonderful things and all the ways that we adapted. We got through this. No one had ANY IDEA how to get through this, but somehow, we did.
Happy 2021. Springtime is here and it is getting warmer and lighter every day. We aren’t out of the woods yet, but we are finding our way. And you rock.
The author's memoir, Flashback Girl: Lessons on Resilience from a Burn Survivor is available for purchase on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Newtown Book Shop and The Commonplace Reader.