Maybe you remember the childhood magic of the do-over. This fantastical process allowed you to try again as if the previous incident had never occurred. In my circle of friends, the do-over was widely used and accepted.
It seems to me that we are faced now with the biggest do-over opportunity of our lives. Whatever your beliefs about the danger of global pandemic and the wisdom of stay-at-home orders, most of us have spent the last months living in ways we never expected. My family spent week after week at home — working, learning, and being together. (There was a lot of together!) We had some choices — like whether we would spend time with people outside our immediate family — but most parts of our lives were decided by others.
Now that our states and communities are opening up (and in some cases shutting back down), our choices are shifting, too. Social media feeds and news sources are consumed with the “w questions” we learned in elementary school. When should we…? What can we…? Where will we…? Who might we…?
There is a lot of attention being paid to getting back to our real lives and adjusting to the new normal. And maybe that’s the right approach. I can’t wait to see friends face-to-face again, to eat in restaurants again, to shop at TJ Maxx again.
In all of the excitement of returning to our favorite people and places, I hope we don’t overlook the most important “w questions” of all: Why?
Why are we rushing back to lives that sometimes felt overwhelming and pressure-filled? Why are we rejoining groups and activities that brought stress and worry with them? Why are we assuming that our pre-pandemic lives are entirely better than the ones we might create with this worldwide do-over?
I’m wondering if this might be a good time to bring a little Marie Kondo voodoo to our lives. Kondo’s catch phrase is this: Tidy your space. Transform your life. Wouldn’t we spark even more joy if we tidied our lives, too? We have a unique opportunity — at least in my middle-aged lady experience — for introspection and recreation. Can we sort out the pieces of our lives that continue to speak to our hearts and the hearts of our families and discard those that no longer bring us joy? Could we thank them for our service and then let them go?
I suspect that the secret to simplifying our lives is found when we look within ourselves and to the people we care about most. “Comparison is the thief of joy,” as President Theodore Roosevelt reminds us.
Judith Warner recently released a book called And Then They Stopped Talking To Me: Making Sense of Middle School. In an interview about her book with NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly, Warner said this:
…Upper-middle-class kids in the U.S. are doing worse than their counterparts who are middle-class or low-income. And that seems to come down to the fact that their [upper-middle-class] communities are very competitive and the value systems in those communities really stress a kind of “me above everyone else” … focusing narrowly on what you need to do to succeed and to get where you’re going, which necessarily means that you’re not thinking about other people. You’re not empathetic. And you’re not in a universe all that nice, frankly.
I was struck by these words when I heard them on the radio and they continue to resonate for me. Am I choosing a lifestyle that requires my kids to be focused on themselves above others? Is the community we build by choice encouraging cooperation and kindness or competition?
One of the great gifts I found during period of social distancing has been more quiet time. And in that quiet, I’ve been doing some thinking, thinking that I’ve poured out here to invite you to wonder alongside me. I’m still wondering.
Of course I know that others’ experience has been much different than mine this spring. My family has been able to work safely at home and we haven’t yet faced worries about financial changes or health dangers. While we have grieved the loss of graduations and traditions, we have not lost loved ones. I am grateful for those who have taken risks to keep my family well, and I mourn with those whose losses are greater than my own.
Several weeks ago, I had the privilege of hearing Dr. Elizabeth MacLeod Walls, president of my alma mater William Jewell College, offer words of inspiration to high school seniors. Dr. MacLeod Walls encouraged the class of 2020 and their parents to replace words like “uncertain” and “unknown” with “unscripted” as they consider these last months and the months ahead. I love that idea — that these days give us the chance to improvise, to be creative in new ways.
I’m not through thinking and wondering yet. Here’s what I know for sure. We are the imaginative authors of our own stories. We have the powerful and fascinating opportunity to be editors of our own lives and take advantage of this unexpected do-over. We can choose joy, over and over and over again.