The past 14 months have been many things — exhausting, clarifying, grief-inducing, baffling, and anxiety-producing, to name a few — but if I were to distill the entire year into a single and not particularly eloquent word, the one that comes to mind is hard.
At various points in the year I lamented canceled events, drastic life changes spurred by the pandemic, and the loss of in-person gatherings with my community. The monotony of one day after another spent at home wore down my usual joie de vivre and I struggled to maintain optimism and energy through the passing seasons.
Often, my approach to challenging phases of life is to grit my teeth and shoulder through the difficulties while repeating the mantra “there’s no way out but through.” But this year, I found that a different aphorism — one that just popped into my head one day, like a missive from the universe — helped me deal with my pandemic-related struggles: “It was never going to be easy.”
Let me explain.
Because of the pandemic, my family relocated last year. Due to uncertainty about both my husband’s and my own future career prospects (it’s still unclear what lasting impacts the pandemic will have on academia and ministry, our respective industries), as well as the elevated sense of clarity about priorities that a global disaster instigates (there’s nothing like having your loved ones’ health and safety compromised to make you realize how much you value their presence in your life!), a move that would include saving money and living minutes away from my parents seemed like a good idea.
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We were lucky that we had the opportunity to work remotely, and also that the average rent in my rural Pennsylvanian hometown was less than half of what we were paying to live in New England.
But the fact that a move was a good idea (I stand by our decision!) didn’t make it an easy transition. One of the hardest parts of the relocation, for me, was leaving our church community. I missed being at a parish where the theology and style were right up my alley, and I missed the familiar faces of the octogenarians with whom I had become close, teens that I knew well through my youth ministry work, and families just a little older than mine whose parenting encouragement nourished my young family’s life.
I feel a stab of longing and loneliness each time I think about my former parish, and I initially blamed my loss of this community on the pandemic. Our move was sparked by COVID-19, after all. But then one day it dawned on me that we never planned to stay in New England forever (see high cost of living and distance from family), and the move — whenever it occurred — was never going to be easy.
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In other words, our pandemic-inspired move may have sped up my sense of sadness over leaving our local parish, but the eventual loss and resulting grief were guaranteed from the moment I started to form connections with the members of my church. This realization gave me both perspective and peace, not because it took away my sadness, but because it opened my eyes to the fact that loss is a consequence of loving rather than of circumstances. Pandemic or not, losing those we love — through moving, illness, or death — is inevitable and will never be easy.
The British writer and theologian C.S. Lewis captures this sentiment well in his book “The Four Loves”: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
I’ll take love — even at the price of heartache — over the absence of connection any day, no matter how much it hurts. But I make no mistake: loving will hurt, particularly at the end of relationships.
Another struggle that I faced this past year was navigating life as a working parent of two children under the age of 2. On days when I was responsible for the majority of childcare hours (my husband and I take turns) and I felt overwhelmed by the mess and noise that our tiny humans create, I often found myself wishing for pre- or post-pandemic times when I could take my daughters to the library, play dates, or other family-friendly activities.
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I continue to look forward to those events, but the reality is that life with a toddler and infant — no matter the circumstances of the world — was never going to be easy.
The aspect of life with small children that most frazzled me this year — the symphony of crying/chatter/whining/screaming — actually had nothing to do with the pandemic. Again, this perspective helped me cultivate a sense of acceptance over the fact that my current phase of life is a tough one, regardless of what is happening in the world.
The word that I used to describe this past year was hard, and it is true that the last 14 months held exceptional difficulties for many people across the globe. But there are some aspects of life that are always going to be challenging, whether they take place during a pandemic or in a year of great health and prosperity.
Remembering that certain events, changes and phases were never going to be easy has helped me to move from a place of frustration and misery to a place of acceptance.