Valuable lessons I’ve learned from COVID about tragedy and new beginnings
For almost a year, we’ve lived in fear. We’ve locked ourselves away from those people and things that give us both profound joy and simple pleasure. We’ve lost hope. And in our darkest hours, we’ve told ourselves the world will never again be the beautiful and exciting place it was.
But now, if you’re like me, you feel the first gentle ruffling of your hair from the wings of hope drawing nearer and nearer, and it feels so damn good that your heart wants to burst with joy.
I recently read a story about the arrival of the COVID vaccine to Boston Medical Center. It describes the reaction of the hospital’s health care workers, who performed a pre-rehearsed dance routine outside of the hospital while some of their colleagues prepared to be injected with a life-changing vaccine.
And while many excitedly say that soon this vaccine will give them their lives back, I say different words. I say this vaccine will give me a new life. I say that never again will I be the person I was before this pandemic stormed into my life. I will be a better person. Here’s how.
I will not take the “small things” for granted again
The family beach trips taken each summer. The simple joys of shopping, experimenting with new lipsticks at the makeup counter, trying on new clothes in the stores, taking trips to the movies, going to the local fair that I used to care less about.
All of these things now have new meaning. And yes, I realize that in the greater scope of things, they may seem shallow. But these small joys remind me that happiness in life is not about waiting for the big things to come, it’s about the million little joys that surround us, the million little joys I used to assume would always be there.
I will hold my family and friends more tightly
Never will a touch be just a touch. Never will a hug be just a hug. Never will a smile or an open-mouthed laugh be met with indifference. They will be treasures of infinite worth.
Because just as the small things are what make life special, so does the joy of human contact. The hands that held ours as we walked into scary situations, the arms our friends put around our shoulders as we posed for pictures, the high fives and the pats on the back when we did something right, and the warm embrace of a friend when we did something wrong.
Now I realize the hands and lips and chests that touched mine were spiritual gifts, ones that I will honor and cherish in the future more than I ever did before.
I will make positive change now, not later
This pandemic has taught me that each breath I take is one that millions of people will never get. Those people had dreams, visions for their futures, goals they wanted to accomplish. Their opportunities were tragically stolen from them, and I’ve decided to honor these lost lives by living my best life now.
I will not put off the weight loss that I know will make both my body and my mind healthier. I will not wait to explore the things that set my heart on fire or go after the goals I want to achieve. I will not hold in the words that need to be said to make my personal relationships stronger. I will utter “I love you’s.” I will say “I’m sorry’s.” I will speak “I forgive you’s” that will finally set me free.
I’ll do these things now because so many COVID victims were waiting for a day in the future to do these things, a day that for them will never come. But I can make these events come to pass and these words become realities in my life, so I will.
I will always remember
The events of this pandemic will never be forgotten because I will practice remembrance. I will remember how empty my classroom sounded, and I will revel in the endless chatter of my students as they file into my classroom one day. I will remember the silent football field at my high school, and I will be ecstatic to pass out tickets in the cold when my school asks me to. I will remember the senior prom my son missed, and I will beg to work hours after school to supervise hundreds of smiling teens in sequined dresses, fancy tuxedoes, and stars in their eyes.
And this moment we are living in will not be one I laugh about in years to come. I will remember the loneliness and the sadness, the hopelessness and the grief, to remind myself that life gives second chances we must seize immediately. And I will remember how good it feels right now to be looking to the future in anticipation, not listlessness.
The bottom line:
Henry David Thoreau said, “if we will be quiet and ready enough, we shall find compensation in every disappointment.” And these lessons are how the universe that made us suffer will pay us back for COVID days of tears and heartbreak. These lessons are how it will reward us for holding on when the world around us came crashing down.
The agonies of this pandemic will make us choose joy instead of sadness. They will help us see light in the distance instead of darkness on the horizon. And we will walk hand in hand with Gratitude as we take deep breaths of the fresh air that was once denied us.
And yes, I know this pandemic is not done with its destruction, but I also know we’re fighting back like hell and making progress. And that long-awaited day of celebration is now coming sooner rather than later. And when that day comes, I can’t help but believe that the world will be a better place. I know I will be a better person and millions of you will be as well.
Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor who makes our current sufferings seem mild, speaks words of wisdom to those of us who will survive the nightmare of COVID.
What does he say?
“For the survivor who chooses to testify, it is clear: his duty is to bear witness for the dead and for the living. He has no right to deprive future generations of a past that belongs to our collective memory. To forget would be not only dangerous but offensive; to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.”
To him, I say, “I will testify. I will tell my grandchildren one day when this is all a long-past memory. I will not forget the dead, but instead live my life with their lives eternally in my consciousness.” And I will thank God for the lessons I learned at their expense. I am begging with all my heart that you will do the same.