The other day, I found myself thinking and reflecting on life as I took an evening walk through my neighborhood.
“When this is all over, what will I remember?” I pondered to myself. “What thoughts and images will be seared into my brain? Who will I be when I am no longer told to stay at home?”
Will I go back to the same schedule I had before? Will my work and voice in The Sunday Paper be needed now more than ever, or not at all? Will my work at NBC News be the same, or will it change now that every show has been cut back? Will I go back to being on a plane all the time, rushing from coast to coast?
Will my work at The Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement survive in a post-pandemic world? Will people still want to fund research into women’s brains when millions of Americans are struggling to eat and pay their rents or mortgages? Will people want to be educated about brain health and Alzheimer’s prevention when one of their most pressing concerns is protecting themselves from the coronavirus? I wonder.
When I leave my home and go back out into the world in the future, will I always see myself as a non-essential worker? As a vulnerable member of society? Will I see myself as someone who needs to be protected from others so I don’t get sick? Who and what really will be essential in a post-pandemic world?
The truth is, I don’t know the answers to many of these questions. But I do know that how I see myself matters. How you see yourself matters, too. What I do know is that all of us are essential. In this post-pandemic world, what will really matter most—what will really be essential—is who we are on the inside.
Not all of us can be health care workers and save lives on the frontlines of the fight (to those of you who are, thank you again for what you’re doing), but each of us can save lives in different ways. When we return to our “new normal,” we have the power to decide what that “new normal” can be. We can make it one where we each of us heals with our words and our presence. We can go out into the world with a firm intention to be carriers of love instead of division and hate. We can be carriers of kindness, compassion, and empathy. If we’re able, we can focus on helping those who are struggling to put food on the table, pay their rent, or clothe their children.
In one way or another, all of us can focus on some form of giving back, instead of just on making money and acquiring things ourselves. Moving forward, we can focus on sharing instead of accumulating. We can focus on less instead of on more, more, more.
We can focus on being good neighbors at every turn. During this time, I’ve taken to walking my neighborhood in the evening, just like so many others have as well. I have a neighbor who often walks at the same time with her husband and her dog. We usually say hello, exchange a few words from a safe distance, and go on. The other day as I was walking, though, I was deep in conversation with my brother and must have missed her as we passed by. I got an e-mail from her the next day checking in on me to make sure I was okay. She had seen me and said I seemed concerned, deep in thought, or like I might have been dealing with something bad.
I was deeply moved and touched that my neighbor noticed me and reached out to check on me. She saw me and wondered whether I was okay. That’s what a post-pandemic world can look like. We can all check in on each other. We can all work to rebuild our relationships and our communities, and in so doing, we can rebuild our sense of purpose, our sense of identity, and our true sense of worth.
The truth is, so many of us in the past have found our purpose and our feeling of “being essential” through our jobs and our work. I know I have. We have looked beyond people of a certain age, deeming them no longer essential due to the creases in their faces. We have viewed others as non-essential based on their line of work. Well, this coronavirus has leveled all of us in different ways.
We have each had different experiences sheltering in place, and truth be told, so many “essential workers“ haven’t even been allowed to shelter. Instead, they have had to go out and experience trauma at a level most of us cannot even fathom. Who will be essential to their care and healing moving forward? Maybe it will be you. Maybe it will be me.
So much of our tomorrow remains unknown. Wondering about it too much right now might not feel like an essential thing to do, but I think it's important for us to begin to think about who we are and who we want to be.
Before all this, I thought I was finally done with answering the question “just who will you be when you grow up?” But now that question is front and center in all of our minds in a new and urgent way.
As we ponder it, may we take comfort in this: while the future may feel uncertain, what will always be certain and essential is our love. The love I have for myself. The love I have for my family and friends. The love I have for you, even though I may not know you personally. It is essential. Yes, it is. Love is the one essential ingredient that our world cannot move forward without. Not now. Not anymore.
So today, if you happen to leave your home, walk out with love in your heart. Walk out ready to share your love with others. See it as an essential gift that you can bestow on a neighbor, a stranger, or that so-called vulnerable, older woman walking deep in thought. After all, your love just might move her heart and calm her mind.
That, my friends, is what is essential in our world today. Love. It will be essential in a post-pandemic world as well.
PRAYER OF THE WEEK
Dear God, as we carry forward in this post-pandemic world, may we carry love in our hearts and share it with others. Family, friends, neighbors, health care workers, grocery store employees, and more. May we walk in kindness and remember that love will always be essential. Amen.
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