The Longest Year

Today is the first anniversary of the Bay Area’s Shelter in Place.

It feels stunning, really. 365 days of the most surreal year. Life, as we knew it, turned into slow motion trauma, or as my friend Jenny-Beth says, “wading through jello.”

In the beginning, there was novelty. Shifting overnight into a strange upside-down world with no TP to be found for miles. Hand sanitizer meltdowns, real masks (instead of just invisible ones), physical disconnection and the six foot physical distance zone. And we entered into the two-dimensional, shapeless world of Zoom (in which we more or less still exist). 

This invisible virus sucked away life as we knew it – and that of our families, jobs, and social contracts. The Vampire Virus, with its spikes poking holes into the world.

Last March, people pivoted left and right to find a new normal. Standing in lines meant learning a new kind of patience, mostly unfamiliar to Americans. Neighbors gathered on the street for happy hour, socially distanced, in circles, trying to find a new normal. Kids took their chalk to the street, with inspiring sidewalk art. The sky turned brilliant blue when carbon emissions crashed. The birds (the BIRDS!) let us know very loudly that spring had sprung and the neighborhood cats didn’t rule the roost. 

About a month after everything shut down, I drove to Santa Rosa, about 50 minutes away. The freeways were freed…no cars for miles. And when I returned over the San Rafael – Richmond bridge, the view of San Francisco took my breath away – as it did when I saw it for the very first time. Crystal clear, shiny and new. 

At a certain point, though, it wasn’t a novelty anymore. 

Like millions of others, I’ve been isolated, home alone, and grounded from travel. It began to sink in that flying to see my closest family was no longer an option…and that I might not see them for a very long time.

Sad cracks appeared. No control over the circumstances, compounded by governmental incompetence and how “personal choice” somehow trumped collective care. More Black lives lost because of police brutality and much deeper, systemic racism, with inequities laid bare (yet again) for all to see. Last spring became a literal spring of discontent.

Over time, my mind started to involuntarily ruminate about disturbing scenarios with lots of “what ifs?”  In different times, I’d usually notice and shift attention back to my core, my breath. But I’d be thinking these dystopian thoughts for minutes before I even noticed. Hence a lot of self- talk to tame my mind to just shut up with the disasters already! So many complex emotions simmering right under the surface would unexpectedly erupt in the most mundane moments. 

Self-preservation required me to even more consciously do the things I know how to do – meditation, exercise, (a lot of) time in nature, gardening and a new pup mid-summer. She is the gift that keeps on giving. Caring for another creature meant a more structured schedule for me and my deaf “healer” has become the neighborhood therapy dog. 

But there’s a part of me that still wants to fill the glass halfway. I do find much gratitude in the community “pods” developed over this year offering comfort, humor and support. Despite profound Zoom fatigue, my family and friends are more connected (online) than ever before. And, of course, this place – the Bay Area – continues to gift us the grandness of nature and reminds me every day why I moved here. 

Now that there is the proverbial, “light at the end of the tunnel,” I do wonder about the “new normal.” This Pandemic year has literally rewired our neural pathways to be cautious, distrustful and fragmented. Many haven’t had human physical contact for months and thousands have lost loved ones, never being able to goodbye. How do we heal from this collective trauma and grief into a more easeful life? 

Let’s lead the healing, design new ways of gathering to meaningfully reconnect. Find new rituals. Come together to share our profound Pandemic wounds and create new paths forward. And use our personal and collective experiences of jello-wading through this longest year to find care, empathy, support and resilience, together.  

About Beth Waitkus

Gardening as a revolution. Most recently, as Founder & Executive Director of the Insight Garden Program, I built a $1+ million nonprofit that works across sectors to provide experiential, transformative gardening and landscaping training in prisons, participant re-entry programs, and advocacy for systems change at the intersections of environmental, criminal, and social justice. To become environmentally aware, all people need is a little time in the garden, or outdoors -- nature teaches us everything we need to know.
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2 Responses to The Longest Year

  1. Rodney Gott says:

    So beautifully said. What we all feel but haven’t put in words. Thank you, dear Beth

  2. Cristin says:

    Beth. This is a thoughtful insightful and beautifully written analysis of the last year. Please consider publishing in another form as well as on this blog

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