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What We Take With Us

Fan Ho

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about us. All of us. I’ve spent most of this year writing about how connected we all are but lately something that’s been nagging at me is hope and how to handle it. We’ve been doing this little dance with it, wanting to get so close but we’re afraid if we do we’ll lose it again.

I’ve seen it appear this year in various ways — in the head nods we now give each other on the streets, the extra kindnesses we are sure to offer to strangers that we would have never done before the pandemic. Everywhere I go, no matter where, someone asks me how I am. I always answer and ask them back. A standard coffee purchase now takes 20 seconds longer than it normally would but on most days or weeks it’s my only human interaction. And that glint of a smile from the barista’s eyes and the question alone is enough to offer me just a tiny but meaningful thread of connection.

Now we are rounding out our year and the pressure of hope is showing up. You know the one we get every year around this time. The Next Year Will Be Better story and the unspoken things we tell ourselves — next year I’ll be more productive, next year I’ll get into shape, next year I’ll finish that project or learn to cook or whatever it is. Next Year hangs over us like all the other “shoulds” in our lives. And because this year has been SO bad, the next brings with it even more pressure as we hope somehow it can maybe-just-a-little-bit make up for what we’ve lost in this one. While we don’t know what 2021 will look like, it does carry with it some more hope than the dark disaster that was 2020.

Of all the hard lessons we’ve been forced to learn this year, and there are so many, there is one very simple one we should fight hard not to let go of, and that is to be more kind. This looming risk we’ve all been facing has split us up — the humanitarians and the non-humanitarians. The mask wearers and the non-maskers. At the core of this it’s a simple recognition of the value of other people. We are by nature social animals, we need one another in such fundamental ways that isolation, disconnection and loss are our biggest fears.

It feels so counter intuitive to say this but I think one day we’ll look back at this year and in some ways, feel nostalgic for this time. Not of course for the needless deaths, or countless losses — but nostalgic for the ways we were connected to each other, so suddenly and so deeply. Many of us have opened up about loneliness, depression, anxiety, and profound pain. And while this year has exacerbated these feelings, they’ve always been there. But now we talk about it because we know there is an unspoken level of comfort and understanding–of non-judgment. We know that everyone is suffering. We might not know all the ways or the complexities but we have all lost something great this year. Our relating to one another appears in so many ways, but our descent into wardrobe changes might be the most common. We are seemingly always joking about our new permanent rejection of underwire bras and jeans — real pants?! Who needs them ever again, everyone hates pants. The thing I love about this though is that the root of all of these sweet little one off’s online come from a place of love. Real human love.

It’s built into us to be compassionate but maybe the speed of life and being so mired in the minutia of our inner worlds creates some kind of barrier or maybe we’ve forgotten that it’s not weakness to be tender with one another — there is nothing about love that doesn’t come from the most strong and gentle place.

As a result of all of this though, after all of this suffering, we’ve gained something wonderful— each other. I only hope that as we walk away from the heaviness this year pressed upon on us, we can manage to take with us some of the best things we did together as a result. The sincere “how are you’s?”, the head nods, the understanding if we don’t want to wear real pants because today is hard. Some of us will now forever hate real pants, some of us will curse underwire bras until the end of days. Sometimes it will be hard to shower and wash our hair and sometimes we’ll share that with each other and I hope so much that whether that is this year or next or 2030, that the responses to those expressions can be met with the same compassion we brought to them in 2020.

To hope is a scary feeling, maybe the most terrifying. It’s taking our hearts and handing them off to some invisible force, to the future we can’t see yet. And while as we’ve especially learned this year, there’s so much beyond our control —there is one small but significant thing we can control —and that is how we offer our love and tenderness to others, (and that we will always need to leave room to forever, collectively, denounce the wearing of real pants).

So, 2021 beckons, but so do all the years we are distant from, those years full of even more unknowns than the one waiting for us in a few weeks. Maybe selfishly, I don’t want to lose this part of us. I don’t want us to forget this delicate feeling we have right now — that life is valuable, that each of us is important and that our time here together is more precious than we can ever really know. That is my hope, my offering to the future phantoms — for us to remember.




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Shannon Stirone

Shannon Stirone

Freelance writer in the Bay Area

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