• mbgarvey

Reflections on 2020. And Bye Bye Bye

It is almost time. Mercifully.

We are days away from ushering out an arduous 2020, a year that jeopardized our health, economy, education, and communities – disrupting every aspect of all things normal. By all accounts this year has been challenging. We navigated amended rituals, unpredictability, grief and loss, frustration and hardship, and varying degrees of isolation and disconnect. We watched the struggle between the collective good versus individual rights, staggering acrimony in politics and public discourse, and a national reckoning on issues of race, power and privilege. Many moments of this year have been exhausting.

Even so, it was not without its blessings. Early in this pandemic, I listened to a podcast by Bronwyn Saglimbeni, in which she was exploring a spiritual context for understanding this pandemic with Pastor Rob McClellen, from Westminster Presbyterian Church in Tiburon, California. In their discussion he invited us to consider that while this pandemic was not an opportunity we asked for, it was an opportunity we were given. I know. Really? Not an easy ask, finding the opportunities here, but worth considering.

This is no rose-colored spin meant to idealize the difficulties of the last year. I will be the first to admit I had many moments where I under-functioned, struggled to recalibrate, or just couldn’t get it - or keep it - together. There were many times I was not my best.

But there are opportunities in what we didn’t get right, just as there are in what we did manage well. When we look back at 2020, are there insights or strengths that have been made more visible to us? As McClellan shared in his reflections, apocalypse, in Greek, means to reveal. When you look back at the year, what did it reveal? What are you proud of? How did you take care of others and let others take care of you? And keep those you cared about safe? What were the healthy risks you took? How did you adapt, persist, persevere? What did you come to know about your strengths and vulnerabilities? How did you show up for others? How did you bounce back, when you didn’t handle something the way you intended?

Opportunities for growth and reflection were both painful and abundant. Honestly, I was not enthusiastically welcoming this assault of Personal Growth Opportunities (both a gift and a curse during even the best of days), but I am grateful for lessons from this last year, at least intermittently. Some were more difficult than others, and all require an ongoing commitment. Here are a few that stood out for me:

There were many opportunities to practice compassion, humility and grace. In all the moments I struggled, sought support and leaned on others. When I couldn’t access my kindness, or optimism or gratitude and it was ever so clear just how flawed I was in managing my stuff. In those moments when I was acutely aware of how imperfect I was in navigating so many difficulties, I tried to give myself grace. It was also evident that I couldn’t problem-solve my way through the fall-out of a pandemic, or help anyone else do it either. We had to simply be in the “here and now” with all the uncertainty and vulnerability that came with it. Compassion, humility and grace came in acknowledging our individual and collective grief and powerlessness, sharing that space with each other and bearing witness.

My flawed moments also provided the opportunity to focus on recovery and resilience, rather than feeling I had to manage perfectly in the moment. It was a sloppy several months and I needed more resets on feelings and actions than I have ever needed as a parent, partner, friend, sister, daughter, or colleague. It wasn’t pretty, but those I cared about were generous with their compassion and forgiveness, as I was with mine. I said I was sorry. Often and genuinely. I re-engaged more quickly rather than stewing in self-recrimination, tried to be accountable for my missteps and oriented myself around what I was doing reasonably well. I settled for good enough when I needed to. Which was often.

There was also the rare opportunity to appreciate hours and hours of family time, enjoying each other, breaking bread and sharing meals, and savoring downtime without the usual scheduling demands. Talking and listening. Laughing and commiserating. Extending support, counsel or irreverence and falling into safe and familiar patterns. These are hours we will likely not have again to the same degree. Ever. And I was reminded over and over of the many things I love most about my family. Crazy as it is.

There was an opportunity to be still. A gift in giving up the frantic pace and the busyness, to finding meaning in the quiet and the ordinary. While the routine and boredom could be mind-numbing at times, it was good practice creating the time and space to reflect and refuel. To get clear on what really mattered to me, so that I could focus my energy – compromised as it was – on what was most important. Being in the moment, when we had so little control over so much, and holding on to our compassion in a time of such uncertainty, was no small accomplishment.

And though our sense of community and our daily routines felt so fragmented, even here was an opportunity to cultivate gratitude. In its absence, or its amended version, I am clearer about the relationships I want to safeguard, the connections I want to cultivate, and the physical and emotional affection I want to give generously. I know better how I want to spend my time and energy, and how I don’t. The loss and grief of these months reinforced what matters most and what I hope not to take for granted in the better days ahead.

So, there it is. Maybe it is only because I am more hopeful that there is an end in sight that I see a glimpse of the opportunities in this dumpster fire of a year. There were many moments where I would have been hard-pressed to acknowledge the potential good, but it helps to know the good persist even now.

Still, it’s time. Mercifully.

Good-bye 2020. Bye bye bye.