By San San Lee
I’m in a loop.
Positive news, bad news, and never-ending uncertainty.
The last 12 months have felt like a bad reality show, thanks to the onset of Covid-19, denials of its existence and gravity, quarantine, reopening, restriction, and shut-down cycles, topped off with the drama of the 2020 election. And now, just as we thought the end was in sight after a new administration and two approved vaccines, the discovery of the new variants has placed us in “A Race Against Time.” Vaccine shortage is real, and as more contagious variants emerge, current vaccines may lose their effectiveness. Reaching herd immunity and returning to “normalcy” appears as elusive and complicated as ever.
I am struggling. I have difficulty focusing on things other than information regarding infections rates and vaccines. I am overwhelmed by the unknown as I fear more bad news. With the saga continuing, I am exhausted.
Yet, even as I feel fatigue, my left brain detects a pattern in life and reminds me, “I am tired and feeling lost, but this is only temporary. It will pass, as things have many times before.” Even though the progress is painfully slow and uneven, facts tell me, too, that things are improving.
In these difficult moments, to help with perspective, I often revisit a March 2020 conversation with my client, “Ana”. We were discussing the profound effects that the pandemic would have on our lives, personal and professional. A senior executive in a major hotel company, I have worked with Ana for years as outside legal counsel. As we saw the fast and furious meltdown of the hospitality industry, we told each other that there would be many bad days ahead, and though rare, a few good moments. To ready ourselves for the onslaught, we agreed that we need to seize and cherish those good moments as we claw back to recover from the pandemic.
This week, Ana and I caught up. Though there has been no work since the pandemic, we check in on each other every other month or so. After a year of business downturns, staff reductions, and quarantine, she, too, was tired. We shared our thoughts about the lack of control and our disappointments in those ignoring public health guidelines. I described my life working from home with my husband and she opened up about her social isolation as a single person, along with her concern for her elderly mother who she had to convince to get the vaccine. We spoke of the possibility of working together and seeing each other again in the near future. We laughed and were able to lift each other out of our pandemic weariness.
Often, when I needed it most, I’ve had the luck of having one of these conversations. Over the last 12 months, instead of focusing exclusively on efficiency and the work at hand, I have taken a measure of the well-being of the other person in business meetings. “How are you?” has become a real question rather than just a polite and perfunctory one. This ritual changed with friends and family as well. Recently, I exchanged texts with my brother about our childhood scars. My brother, very private and closed, used to only reach out to provide obligatory updates about our parents. Now with the pandemic, we check in with each other regularly.
Almost a year ago, when Ana and I spoke of the “good moments”, I didn’t know what that meant. Over time, I’ve come to realize that authentic, genuine interactions with others are the “good moments”. In these instances, we can drop the pretense that all is well and be honest. By sharing our thoughts, feelings, and experiences, we are showing each other that we are human. That we care for each other.
Though the pandemic has kept us physically apart, it has emotionally brought us closer.
At the end of my call with Ana, I mentioned our March 2020 discussion. Agreeing that the pandemic has allowed us to share our vulnerabilities, she then said, “Let’s do everything we can to stay this way, even when we go back to working on projects, again.”
“I would like that,” I responded.
At that moment, I realized that I was not really in a loop. Instead, she and I, and our enduring friendship, have been progressing along a path of change and evolution, through the pandemic. All along.