At the beginning of the pandemic, I lost my job, and things, in an odd way, finally started to look up for me. I qualified for unemployment and for the first time, I actually had the time and the money to return to my passions. I did as many things as I could: bought paint sets, grew my garden and my book collection, started to crochet and knit again, even returned to writing and sewing. My daughter and I learned to roller skate together. We went to the park and on adventures to the butterfly museum. I bought her sports supplies to try well… everything. The world was crumbling around us but we finally had enough.
I was taking major chances. Dreaming and plotting out everything from my own event spaces to a full-on baking business, even a mini garden school. Absolutely nothing was off the table. My family enjoyed witnessing my excitement. When you aren’t working as an adult, everyone wants to know what you’re going to do next. But this time, unlike when I graduated college, or after I quit my first job, I actually had enough support that I could set my sights high. I toured buildings that were for sale and wrote out business plans. I started books and poetry collections. The Capricorn in me wanted to start absolutely everything, so I did. As things got more complex, it became more and more clear what I would never be able to pull off. I finally had a little bit of money but I, in no way, shape, or form, had a million dollars to buy and renovate a building. I also didn’t have fifty thousand dollars for a piece of land and I slowly but surely realized that although I enjoyed teaching the neighborhood kids how to grow the food they loved to eat, I needed to learn so much more before that could become my livelihood.
Contrary to popular belief of the unemployed, I was applying to jobs religiously. I wouldn’t get responses for months and often balanced out that frustration with a new activity or by taking up a new skill. I tried more than once to work for myself and found out quickly that many of the people who were offering online business courses were only doing so to make themselves richer. The more I applied for things, the sadder I became. I tried everything: revising my resume, going on different websites, refreshing my references and my cover letter. Nothing seemed to work.
When the nation put out a final week for unemployment, I could feel myself shrinking. Things felt far away from that initial feeling of infinite possibilities. Have you ever felt the urge to scream and cry and fight and cry some more and scream again? I wanted to do that– all of that – but I didn’t have it in me. I felt ashamed. Everything around me, from social media to news outlets to small business owners, were saying that I didn’t try hard enough. I had also begun taking care of my grandparents whose health had markedly declined during the pandemic and, when school re-opened, I was on pick-up duty for my daughter. Applying felt more and more hopeless and I tore at myself. Why hadn’t I used more of the money I saved to get something running efficiently? Had I had too much fun? Did I not apply to enough jobs? Why wasn’t I getting hired? My least favorite of those questions was, what in the world would be coming next?
One day, I saw a post on Twitter where someone’s therapist had asked them if they had mourned all of the things that they lost this year: time, family members, friends, colleagues, who they were. So much of our existence in the United States is predicated on how much we produce. How well we keep ourselves going in the middle of an apocalypse. How little we stop to remember what it feels like to feel anything other than productivity. When I asked myself if I had taken time to mourn, I realized that like many other individuals, I never had. The truth is, in between the freedom and excitement and the hopelessness and despair, I lost myself for a while. I had no idea where I should have been steering myself. I couldn’t think that far ahead; there were too many things that my family needed right then and too many things falling apart outside. I was working so hard to get to a place where I could know who I was again…but that didn’t come with a new job or accolades. I felt like I wasn’t doing much of anything at all.
As the world reopens, people gather, and the powers that be are trying to pretend that nothing wrong is happening anymore. But I’m writing this piece in a period of mourning. I’m trying to honor everything that I wasn’t able to do. Every person in my circle who didn’t make it to 2022 or who won’t live to see the end of this year. Every person that my loved ones cared about who didn’t make it. The body my family and I knew before we had COVID. I will be taking time to sit with each of those things because I am human and I deserve to say goodbye in a way that fits me. And in an effort to give myself grace, I will also be reveling in every single accomplishment that I’ve had in the past two years. I took care of my family when they needed it most. I kept in touch with the people who mattered to me. I challenged myself to rest and succeeded a few times. I fell back in love with writing and arts and everything that grows. I slept, baked, and ate my way through an incredibly tumultuous period in our history. While we continue through it, I will continue to evolve in a way I couldn’t have imagined.
That is what I would like to gift to myself and to others as the world continues to burst from the inside out: permission to take as long as you need to mourn whatever you lost. Permission to sit in your stillness and grieve what you thought these two years would be like. Permission to be sad and hurt and angry that people and dreams will no longer be realized. I would also like to sing ALL of your praises. I am so proud of you. For every day that you woke up. For every time you tried to eat something. For every new dream you dared to dream, everything you applied to, every smile, laugh, and tear. I am so proud of you. You have accomplished wonders. We all have.