A year marked by isolation and loneliness, 2020 has taught me more about friendships, community, and depending on others, than any year prior. It turns out, when stripped of the reliable systems that had been successfully serving my independence, I was forced to reach out to those around me for support and help. The irony of this experience is not lost on me. A year that has forced many of us to physically create distance between ourselves and other people has helped me learn how to create emotional closeness in new ways, with the people in my community. 2020 shut down travel opportunities and made my world small. It narrowed my relationships to a small handful of women. A group of women that were all brought together just as the world shut down.
For me, the pandemic made its mark on March 14, 2020. I was walking on the beaches of Dauphin Island, with a mostly new group of mom friends, when we all received the same call that our first graders would not be returning to school. The five of us were sharing our first trip away from home together, escaping the chaos of raising small children while forming new friendships and bonding over the joys and hardships of marriage and parenting. The call came in as a shock; it stirred up fear and anticipation of the unknown. It was our introduction into one of the most difficult years many of us have experienced. We all ended that trip feeling very thankful that we were able to sneak in a trip before the world locked down.
Navigating Pandemic Life
From there, we began navigating the world of e-learning, which in its own way, created a continued avenue of connection for all of us. We helped each other access assignments and download handouts (something we are still doing nine months later), complained about being moms and teachers (also still doing), and sent funny memes back and forth (again, still doing). We met over Zoom to encourage one another and find some joy, and when we were all about at our wits end, we began meeting outdoors, six feet apart, with coffee and sometimes wine. As the heaviness of the year carried on, we cried together. The burdens of life in lockdown became too heavy to hold in. Our families were struggling mentally and emotionally, we faced uncertainty in jobs, an unexpected pregnancy, losses, shortages in toilet paper, and stressors in family relationships.
Learning to Lean on Others
Through this, I have learned to listen in new ways. I have learned to need others and allow others to help me. Typically, prior to the humble breaking I have experienced in 2020, I prided myself in my ability to do all of the things. I am a full-time working mom of three. I function well with a lot on my plate. That became impossible this past year. Admitting failures and weaknesses to my newfound friends, allowing myself to be a mess, taught me so much about the healing power that comes from vulnerability and weakness. Something I would not have learned without the difficulties of this past year.
My friends and I gathered recently for Christmas. We sat outside and ate good food. We each brought presents to exchange with one another that represented our favorite things from that year. Truly, my favorite thing from 2020, could not be gifted. My favorite thing, my lifeline this past year, was gathered there with me, represented in the faces of the four other women, each sitting six feet apart from each other. It is 2020 that I can thank for these friendships.
Despite the pandemic, we would have all experienced hard things this year — life does not allow us to escape them — but because of the pandemic, we were forced to survive them together. We learned to lean in through hard conversations, extend grace, help and be helped, and share honestly. I will rejoice when normalcy is an everyday occurrence and not a ghost of the past, but I will always look back at this time with a grateful heart for these women and the gift of authentic friendships.
If you find yourself still longing for friendship and the support of others, reach out to those around you. Don’t let the restrictions of the pandemic keep you isolated. It is possible, and worth the effort, to think creatively and invent safe, distanced ways to meet with others. As temperatures turn colder, bundle up, grab a blanket, and meet around a fire pit. If sharing feels hard and heavy, watch a comedy sketch on an outdoor projector. Create space for laughter during a time when it can be hard to find.