Reflections on The Pandemic :: Lessons Learned and Beauty Found

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pandemic anniversary - lessons learned and beauty foundOn the anniversary of The Pandemic, I find myself reflecting on this past year. I’m lamenting and my heart aches for so many. I also am desperately searching for beauty in the midst of such devastating loss. I don’t want this past year to have been wasted. I’m seeking to find the lessons I can learn from and grow.

One Year Ago

Last January, my husband and I had the privilege of going on a mission trip to Greece. After our time there, we went to Italy. We heard the initial reports of COVID-19 in China, but it seemed a world away. We had no idea that a short few weeks later, Italy would be hit devastatingly hard by the virus.

Fast forward to March 13, 2020. I had gone to an event for my junior high teens. As we were leaving, the principal asked the students to stay a few minutes longer. I found it odd as we had been told the students would be dismissed with parents. I went to my car and waited. A few minutes later, my kids arrived with all their books in hand and announced, “Just in case we need to stay home because of COVID-19.” Little did we know that would be their last official day of in-school learning.

Who could have predicted at that moment all the loss ahead? On March 13th, 2020, Alabama had its first reported case of COVID. As of today, 10,327 deaths have been reported due to COVID in our state. 534,000 have lost their lives in the United States.

So much loss. The sick were isolated in hospitals, unable to have family visit and stay by their sides. We lost loved ones and were unable to attend services and lament. Many lost jobs. Important milestones and celebrations such as graduations, weddings, and reunions were canceled. 

Over night we found our world turned upside down. We woke each day understanding that we had no idea what that day would bring. We could not predict the division that our country would experience. We also did not know the beauty that we would see as heroes emerged and new rhythms of life were found.

Lessons Learned

There were many days during this past year that seemed hopeless. Loss for our children, unpredictability, and isolation. Anxiety and depression coupled with loss of incomes. COVID cases on the rise as well as deaths. The trauma in the black community over George Floyd and so many precious others. Division over masks, racial issues and politics. What can we learn and take away?

Community is essential.

As an introvert I thought, “Hey, quarantine? That might be awesome for a bit!” It was for a few weeks, but then it wasn’t. The loss of school, church, sports, and summer activities created isolation. That isolation created a rise in anxiety and depression. It also caused a hurricane of division. We found that when we are not spending time with others who can speak life into us, we can fall into despair.

When we can’t see others face to face and listen to others’ experiences, it’s easy to divide into camps. Our country became even more divided. Instead of having discussions and believing the best in each other, we hid behind computers and argued on social media. Instead of listening, words were thrown out as weapons, which resulted in civil unrest in many forms.

However, we found that when we engage in community as a united front, like our medical community, it brings out the best in us. It doesn’t matter what race, religion, or political affiliation. We see that others who think differently aren’t our enemies. We are better together than alone.

Moms are rockstars.

Moms are rockstars. We already knew that, right? However, it was on full display this past year. As moms, regardless of any held beliefs, we had the same desire — the welfare of our children and families. Missing out on community was devastating, but we found new ways to stay connected. Family Zoom calls. FaceTime chats. We fought to keep community in whatever way we could.

While working, homeschooling, and taking care of family needs, moms set the tone in their homes. We became cheerleaders while still dealing with our own losses and problems. We tried to stay positive when we really wanted to cry our heads off!

Moms adapted constantly. Need a birthday celebrated? No problem — we had drive-through celebrations. A mom needs to work but her kids have no childcare? We saw other moms step in to help. A loved one sick with Covid? We dropped off food and grocery shopped. Moms, be encouraged. Even though it may feel like these were small things, it showed our kids how to persevere in the midst of adversity.

Ordinary Heroes

Our country has an unhealthy obsession with entertainers and sports figures. They are often treated as royalty and paid excessive amounts. However, this time in history showed who we need to hold in higher esteem. Essential workers.

The medical community, grocery workers, teachers, pastors, counselors and the list goes on — they all rose to the occasion. They put themselves at risk for the welfare of others. Our country watched as they took care of our communities tirelessly and sacrificially. It became clear during this time what really matters as these ordinary heroes shined during a very dark time.

As we move forward in the next months, I pray that these lessons stay with us. May we not take even the simplest joys in life for granted. I hope my family celebrates the ordinary with hearts of gratitude.

Beauty Found

In the midst of the hard, I made it my mission to find beauty in this past year. Even as I write this, I’ve learned that a dear friend has lost a loved one to COVID. As long as we are on this earth we will always find ourselves in a juxtaposition of grief and joy. I firmly believe we can find beauty even amid the storm raging. A child’s embrace, the call from a friend,a walk in nature — these are all gifts for our soul. We just have to intentionally look for them. Amidst the pain I decided to keep a journal of the beauty I could see so I could remember. 

One thing I wrote about being thankful for is rocks. Rocks? Yes, rocks. One day on a beautiful spring day, I was walking with my kiddos at the park. My youngest loves rocks. I was usually in a hurry to do the next thing, no time to stop, full speed ahead. This time, though, we stopped constantly as she picked up a new rock and showed me the beauty she found in it.

It was a gift of slow time spent and being present in the moment, something our family had been missing for a while. I have three older teens who will soon be leaving the nest, and this past year afforded me more time with them — a gift. I’ll never look at the rocks the same thanks to my sweet girl showing me to slow down, be present, and see the beauty she found.

Birmingham Mom Collective Reflections

I’ve asked some of our contributors to share the beauty they found as well. 

“The pandemic gave me time to slow down and focus on starting my blog. I’m not sure if I would have done it had I not had so much time on my hands. I have wanted to blog for quite some time, but have always used ‘I don’t have time’ as an excuse. That down time gave me the head start that I needed to get going.” – Cherith F.

“An old mentor use to tell me ‘shared experiences creat shared meaning.’ If surviving a pandemic doesn’t create shared meaning, I don’t know what does. While some relationships have been relatively non-existent this year, others strengthened in authentic ways. My relationships with my husband, my son and trusted girlfriends are more meaningful now than ever.” – Katie R.

“Many days I found it hard to find anything beautiful or good. Mostly I worried- about job loss, risk factors, loved ones. Then my husband and I discovered Red Mountain Park. We began to explore trails there each weekend. During those hikes we found time to discuss all those worries, sharing our concerns, hopes, and solutions. I found release from worry as we talked. We look forward to returning to our walking and talking at the park as spring returns.” – Chris L.

“I’ve learned the simplest, most routine things aren’t to be taken for granted. My young sons watching their dad pull in the driveway, park his car and walk to the mailbox after work every day. That was such fun for them. Watching out the window, giddy when they knew he was heading inside. It was adorable, but it didn’t feel like something I had to cherish. Then the pandemic hit and my husband was no longer going to the office. The simplicity of being excited for him to get home and smother him with hugs? I don’t want to take that for granted again.” – Jenny Y.

“A group of my college friends has been getting together for 25 or more years on the same weekend every year. Usually, that’s when we catch up. However, during the pandemic, we zoomed a couple of times early on and then our group text blew up and we have kept it up all year. We send each other memes, prayer requests, jokes, updates, memories… I guess the lesson I have learned from this is to be intentional with friendships.” – Janna S.

Today as I look out my window, I see a cloudy, rainy day with storm warnings. I also see blooms on the trees outside . . . beauty surviving in the midst of the storm. Spring is in the air, which gives me hope. Hope that things don’t stay the same. I’m reminded that seasons change. There is beauty for all of us in remembering and fighting. Fighting to believe that brighter days are ahead. 

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Melissa is originally from the Mobile area but moved to Birmingham after graduating from Auburn University. After marrying and teaching for several years, she moved to a couple of different states so her husband , Bobby, could finish out his medical training. They came back to beautiful Birmingham in 2006 , and she is now a stay-at-home mom with their 5 children ( ranging from ages 8- 17) and their two fur babies. It’s usually crazy and loud in their home but she loves having an open door policy to build community. She loves Jesus, the beach and connecting with others. You will often find her at one of the many local coffee shops reading a book or listening to others stories over a cappuccino. Melissa is passionate about racial reconciliation in the church and helping women build bridges through listening and learning.