“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”― Mother Teresa
A friend of mine cancelled out of a zoom meeting she’d been looking forward to because of an unexpected opening in scheduling for the virus vaccine. We all understood, of course, when she said by way of explanation, ‘I just have to get my life back’. Yet, for the next few days that phrase kept running around in my head, a chorus I didn’t like much but couldn’t get rid of. I could tell that even with empathy for the desire to return to the pre-pandemic life we once led, something about that statement bothered me enough to keep repeating in my brain; a circular, never ending argument like a website that won’t load or vaccination schedule that won’t show any results. Why? What is there about getting my life back that makes me so uncomfortable?
The phrase has many layers, and perhaps therein lie the reasons for its challenge. On the surface of it we all understand the desire to regain control, or at least the perception of control over one’s own destiny. Our work, schedules, decisions about everything and everyone touching our lives, and choices we were used to making for ourselves were all taken away. In one, overpowering, backhanded and unexpected grab the pandemic accomplished a blackout cloaked in the darkness of a universe most of us were unaware of. Our freedom was stolen overnight, and we want it back. But is that all this year was? Just a challenge to our patience and fortitude in a war where we were only observers rather than participants? I think it was much, much more than that. And I know that humanity learned a great deal about it’s existence and purpose on the planet, to say nothing of each community within the many seams of societies covering the Earth. And from that new knowledge of ourselves both collectively and personally, I believe we’ve gained a great deal I don’t want to give up, hence my reluctance to embrace ‘getting my life back’ again.
I don’t want to give back the acceptance that nothing is in my control, nor will it ever be. I don’t want to forget that the seemingly rich and powerful are no more able to command their destinies than I am, and that we are all truly in this human dilemma together, at the same level, always. I don’t want to lose the shared appreciation for the value of life, or in fact the sense of sharing in general. I don’t think morality can be taught in an ethics class. An extended period of engagement with the most terrifying possibility of losing life is the only way to elicit a new response to the miracle of living. My old life didn’t have that awareness, and I’d suggest from what I’ve seen this year that very few others did either.
I also don’t want to waste as much time as I used to relating to people and events in ways that truly meant nothing in the larger plan of living together on this planet. Every day has recently come to be more precious than most of the years that went before in ‘my old life’. So, that’s why I don’t want it back. I don’t want to lose any of the knowledge I’ve gained about what matters most and what doesn’t. And I don’t want to lose the vocabulary we’ve all learned and shared during this year away from the distraction of ‘our old lives’. This year away from them has been a miraculously powerful awakening for most of us. Or, if I’m wrong, then what was it for?
No, I don’t want to get my former life back again. I don’t want to go back at all. I want to go forward with a new knowledge and appreciation for all the silver linings and what we’ve gained. That sense of all of us being in it together is something I never had in my life before, even if I articulated it when called on to do so. Now I know it’s true from experience. That’s why I don’t want to get that other life back. There are many kinds of isolation, and this new life is a lot less lonely. We’re all in it together, and I hope will continue to be in the future.