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The year we should have had
It might be time for us all to have the year we should have had.
We've been living with the pandemic and its consequences for years. We've had a hot vax summer and a Covid winter. On top of the pandemic, we’ve dealt with scarcity, fear, public traumas and private ones, all of it inside societies that feel like they’re on the brink of collapse.
Maybe now we should try having the year we should have had.
Not a return to normal. Not even a new normal.
A year of living the way we knew we wanted to when we all got quiet and still.
A year of making decisions because they heal us, decisions that we wished we’d have made before the world as we knew it blew up.
A year of doing the things we suddenly remembered we wanted, back when we were all confronted with the existential terror of mass deaths all around us.
A year of making decisions that we won’t regret, because we took enough of a break from the relentless capitalist cycle and listened to the existential terror in the middle of the night.
A lot of us made decisions during the pandemic that were the closest approximation we could get to the things our hearts wanted.
Whether you could work from home or had to risk your life for minimum wage, whether you’re a digital native or had to learn to use zoom, whether you had any downtime during lockdown or not, being surrounded by death and uncertainty brings a certain level of introspection.
It comes for you in the middle of the night; it comes for you in spite of the endless distractions of internet entertainment; it comes for you in the middle of the work you throw yourself into because it is familiar and familiar feels safe.
It comes for you whether you’re ready, or want it, or can handle it.
Most of us used that introspection to finally listen to the small, still voices inside - the ones you can only hear when everything else falls away, when you’re left with nothing but the knowledge that you and all the people you love could die, now, today, or tomorrow.
Every day for the past few years, we all woke up to a sense of impending doom, and still we found partners, bought houses, started gardens, learned to bake. We read books, slept in, cooked slow meals, started projects, took an extra minute to love on our kids and our friends. We breathed in what was most important.
And then, with little fanfare and even less intention, we all went back to work.
We did it because the economy can’t live without us and because we knew no other way to get the resources we needed for those lives we were dreaming up.
And then two more years passed. Years full of injustice and death and terror and lack. Years where we watched our society start to crumble at the edges, the kind of years that make you want to retreat into the only safety and stability you know.
Those years were the kind of time that compresses you into an ever-smaller existence. It’s the kind of time that makes you afraid to look at the mess around you for fear you’ll never get back out of bed.
Those years took the tiny dreams we had in the quiet of lockdown and the terror of death and pushed them back down where they couldn’t be heard.
This is, after all, how we protect ourselves from the pain of knowing what we want to do and not being able to do it.
I see it in myself, my friends, all the people I love. It’s this disquiet that won’t go away, a bell that can’t be unrung. Everyone is back to the rush and hustle, but everyone still has this little sliver of light in our souls that’s begging to be seen and understood.
We all went back to lives we knew we didn’t want.
We all went back to living for a future that is uncertain at best and unlikely at worst, still thinking that if we just work a bit more, hold out a bit longer, we'll be steadier, safer, somehow more ready to take that leap.
Yet if there's anything we've learned in the last three years, it's that the future is gone. All we have is right now. All we have is these tired minds and weary souls and broken bodies.
All we have is that little sliver of light.
I’m not sure who else needs to hear this today, but it’s okay if the life you have is a good one and still not the life you want.
Maybe you planted an apartment garden and then instead of leaving your job to do a farm apprenticeship you went back to the office and let all the plants die.
Maybe you dreamed of starting a business or writing a book or learning to paint or finally playing that guitar or spending more time in the park with your kids and now you realize you’ve just started working all the time again.
Maybe you even bought paint or a guitar or a notebook or a whiteboard, and now you glance at them while you get ready for work, every day, first thing, seeing the physical expressions of those dreams sitting sad and silent and gathering dust.
Maybe, like me, you rushed into relationships, mortgages, side hustles, or projects as a way to feel safe…and now you’re realizing that none of it is truly for you.
Whatever you did to bury that dream, maybe this is the year to return there. Maybe this is the year to widen that sliver of light a little - to go back and explore yourself with all the knowledge, resilience, and grit you’ve gained from surviving until today.
The year we should have had — the one where we had time to process everything that’s happened to us individually and collectively — can still be here.
After all, it's pretty obvious now that no matter what kind of money you make or how much you have invested, the future is still uncertain - inflation is sky high and stocks are dropping and it’s crypto winter. It's pretty obvious that going back to work didn't fix much if anything, since prices keep rising and shit keeps happening and the kids are not okay and you can’t buy baby formula.
We know that the reckless spree of hot vax summer didn’t fix the hole in our hearts. We know that the depression and hiding of Covid winters didn’t help us navigate the anxiety any better. We know that going back to something resembling normal isn’t working.
We know that because that tiny sliver of light in our souls is still there, highlighting everything it can reach that stands in the way of our truest selves.
We know because none of us feel aligned with ourselves — because we’re all halfway between the lives we knew we wanted to build and the lives we returned to from scarcity and fear.
It’s okay if that’s where you are. All of us, collectively, have been living in daily anxiety and trauma for years. Every time we think we’re “through” something, another thing happens: shortages, jobs, the cost of milk and houses, the shooting of children and the uncaring ceaseless systems of injustice around the world that just refuse to stop chewing us up and spitting us out.
But we’ve also made it to here, now, today, where this is all there is. We’ve survived.
If the past three years aren’t enough of a catalyst for us to leave behind things that we know, empirically and intuitively, are not working for us – then really, what ever will be?
Maybe this year we can take that knowledge, and all the wisdom and lessons and hard truths we learned from this pandemic, and apply it to ourselves.
Maybe we can all get still and quiet just one more time and let the light in just a little bit more.
Maybe this can be the year you should have had – if you’ll let it, and if you’re willing.
I think I’m going to try - and my most genuine wish is that you do, too.