Nothing went according to plan last year. Not. A. Thing.
We all know what cataclysmic event made its mark on history in 2020. In fact, we will never forget this. Who could? Although we cannot stop the world from spinning on it axis, we clearly were able to stop everything else. And, I will argue, this was to our collective detriment. As humans, we need one another. We look to one another for love, for support, for guidance, for direction. To be without these connections, these fundamental emotions, is to be rudderless.
How did we survive? We adapted. What we did to adapt is case-specific. As usual, my adaptation took a circuitous route.
I quit my job in August 2020 so I could be available for our son, knowing it was possible that school would again be remote. We moved out of Manhattan because we’d lost our faith in the NYC schools. Having a child of primary school age, we knew that his education had to take precedence. Thankfully, the Catholic school where we enrolled our son worked tirelessly to make last year count. With very few hiccups, he was in school daily from September 2020 to June 2021.
Quitting my job was scary, but it also gave me a chance to do something I’ve never had the opportunity to do. In the morning, I walked him to the bus stop. In the afternoon, I waited for him at the bus stop. We spent afternoons together, something I may have enjoyed more than he did. Sometimes, I helped him with his homework, although my assistance was not always welcomed. Not surprisingly, he challenged me quite a few times. Although the “mom” side of me often countered the challenge, the lawyer side of me cheered his ability to push back. Watching our children grow is, in my opinion, one of the most gut-wrenching and beautiful things we can experience.
When no per diem law job materialized by November, I took a job at Lowe’s. I am not constituted to be without a job. In fact, I get restless. Add to this the change in our fiscal picture and I knew I needed to join the workforce in some capacity. If you shop at Lowe’s, I was your “Internet Picker.” If you submitted an online order, I was there to fulfill it. Did you order a light bulb? Or a shovel and rock salt? Perhaps you ordered treated lumber. Or, in my opinion, you ordered too many pieces of tile for your remodeling job. Whatever you chose, I picked. If you ask me to describe that job, I would tell you it was humbling. I worked until my feet hurt. I picked up, pushed, pulled and dragged items that made my muscles sore. Having carried my telephone in my pocket, I learned that I moved approximately 7 miles per day.
I worked with some wonderful people. As we loaded lumber, or cement, or bricks, or stone, or something commensurately as heavy, we spoke about life, and goals, and about our families. I learned where they came from, and where they wanted to go. Some talked about school. Others discussed the opportunities provided by Lowe’s and where those pathways might lead. At each conversation, I encouraged progress. I am hopeful some of those conversations resonated.
In the spring, as the world crept back to something near to normal, I found a legal job that fit the needs of my family. I left Lowe’s with a few friends, and I was reminded of a few invaluable lessons. Good people are everywhere. Every job has value. Communication is key. Taking care of our families is paramount. What we find is often more valuable than what we lose.
And I learned one more invaluable lesson: never tell the old Irishman in the paint department that you are a lawyer. He might just ask your guidance about how to cash a five-figure check in a place that isn’t a bank, and how to use that money to buy a horse.
It has been no less than a trying year for many people. Amazingly, I can make this representation without having anyone suggesting that I am exaggerating. Much of what occurred in this past year has left many feeling like our nation became a house divided. As the world rose to the challenge of battling a remarkably communicable virus, mechanisms used to combat this disease left us reeling. Restrictions purportedly designed to protect essentially eclipsed freedoms. Tensions mounted. Stress levels soared. Our true enemy, the fear Gremlin, crept out of the shadows and trounced on the hope Sprite. Without an understanding of when things would change, when businesses and schools would reopen, when we would be able to visit our loved ones, fear and distrust took hold.
When the fear Gremlin takes over, a cauldron of negative emotions simmers just below the surface. Judgments are clouded. Responses are sharp and cutting. People act before they think. In 2020, media outlets covered what felt like a never-ending cycle of fear Gremlin behavior. Then, the page turned. Vaccines became available. Hope rose. At Mach speed, we left 2020 in the rear view mirror. Citizens of the United States breathed a collective sigh.
Where do we go from here? How can we repair the wounds opened by this abysmal virus? As a first step, I suggest that we take a moment to recognize that one truth unites us: this virus cataclysmically altered all of our lives. No one escaped unscathed. Everyone lost something. If we take a moment to recognize this, if we take a moment to understand that each of us experienced unimaginable sequelae from this virus, that we, the people, all had to rise to this challenge, perhaps we can allow the healing process to begin.
So, where do we start? How to we begin to heal? Perhaps we can start by communicating respectfully. When listening, each of us must focus on the words spoken so the intended meaning can be analyzed and understood. When responding, providing a reasoned and metered reply serves two critical purposes: it sets a tone of respect that can foster continued dialogue, and it reflects a willingness to engage in a thoughtful debate.
In a democracy, one is not required to have the opinion of another. Thankfully, we live in a country where this freedom is more than a concept, it is a tenet. Our forefathers carefully articulated this right within the First Article of the United States Constitution. Remembering this fact should serve to remind us that we, as a nation, are blessed. What others yearn for, we have as an inalienable right.
Did our collective communication gap occur entirely because of this virus? Arguably, the answer to that question is no. Discord has certainly risen since the 2016 election of former President Trump. Many will debate who holds responsibility for this fracture in our ability to communicate. I suspect no one will win the argument. What we can do is move past this stalemate by deciding to communicate respectfully, no matter where you stand politically.
As we all know, it takes only a moment for skin to be cut, and it takes much longer for that cut to heal. During the healing process, the skin may throb; the site may become infected. Eventually, from the inside out, the skin knits. This virus cut our skin, causing pain and triggering raw emotional responses. Changes in the political landscape prompted us to figuratively cut each other’s skin. Thankfully, we are on the path to recovery. But, much like the body’s healing process, emotional healing cannot be rushed. Time, patience and vigilance are required.
We, the people of the United States of America, can do this. Over time, and with all due vigilance, let us exercise the virtue of patience each time we listen and respond to one another, no matter upon what side of the aisle we stand.
Three years ago today, I lost a dear friend - Kristin Petrie Rocha - to cancer. After a prolonged battle with breast cancer, she passed away at the all-too-young age of 47. I wrote this poem for her shortly after she died.
As we welcome in a New Year with prayers for good heath, happiness and a global shift towards better days, may we also remember those from our past who made life wonderful.
ODE TO A PEACH
There once was a girl we called Peach
Who didn’t live too far down the street.
She was short, this is true;
And her eyes, they were blue.
Indeed, she was one you wanted to meet.
From Martin Place in Manhasset she did hail.
Child of Pete and Rosemary.
Mo, Jeanne, Jim and Mike
Enhanced the delight
Of her tortured grammar school and teenage years.
We met as kids, not more than 5.
By 13, we hit our stride.
So much fun we did have,
Laughing endlessly, never mad,
Along with a few others, we became the Hen Pride.
Many years she lived in New York City.
Some nights were not too pretty.
Drunky Monkey arrived,
Made us all feel quite alive,
Although the next day we all felt pretty shi**y.
In the day, she was teacher extraordinaire,
Leading the kindergarteners with great flair.
Antics in her class
Made us all laugh.
You simply wished you were sitting right there.
Time marched on, our lives did weave
Different paths, off she would leave
With her love from the North
She found her stride, she walked forth
Selfishly, many did grieve.
Love and marriage brought two great kids;
Keegan and Emma, fixed on our grid.
Many smiles they did bring,
Along with laughter, and other things.
‘Twas a mother’s love that could never be hid.
Amongst these many great joys
She had too many an “Oy.”
Meeting challenges with grace,
She defied the whole human race
Battling cancer with the strength of a boy.
She left this earth entirely too soon
Making so many feel stranded on the moon.
The high road she did take,
Singularly, she did make
Many feel that they’d lost their tune.
In this life, you meet a few
Who are honest and loyal, too.
Friends like that are unique,
The kind of people you should seek
As they will always be tried and true.
You are sorely missed by many, Peach.
Until we meet again.