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The Tenth Good Thing About COVID-19

Dear Courageous Leaders,

Have you read The Tenth Good Thing About Barney?  When I was a child, my family had our own secret code, inspired by messages contained in cherished children’s books like this one; code that we still use today.  The message is with me still even though I can’t remember when I first read this story. Knowing my mom, it was probably a book that she read to my brother Ryan and me after losing a beloved pet—or in preparation for a day when that might happen. What I do remember is receiving that book from her again in my 30’s as I was mourning the loss of my gentle black lab, Neko. It still graces my bookshelf today.

I’ve realized that for the past few days, weeks, and months, I’ve been mourning another loss—the loss of life pre-COVID.

Last week we celebrated both Thanksgiving and our now fifteen-year old’s birthday. With both celebrations, I acutely felt the sadness of what used to be and the contrast of how we conduct our lives now amidst a global pandemic. At the same time, I reflected upon what it is I still have gratitude for in spite of, or even because of, the experiences and feelings of loss. And I recalled that children’s story of the boy who was mourning the loss of his cat Barney and his mom who encouraged him to think of ten good things about Barney that he could share at the funeral. But at first, he could only come up with nine…

In the spirit of naming what there is to celebrate while experiencing grief and loss, I’ve created our family’s list of the ten good things about COVID-19.

1. We play Unstable Unicorns

The four of us, my husband and our two teenagers, started playing board games and card games together nearly every night of the week. We joke, laugh, and tease—and crow with delight when someone makes a spectacular play. We actually finish most games with no arguments or tears, no frequent storming off because of hurt feelings. Siblings can be such a pain.

2. We are dealing with conflict better.

We are working through petty arguments better when tempers flare. There’s no place to run off to except for your bedroom, and eventually one gets tired of isolation. So, we seem to give each other more time and patience, which keeps us engaged until tempers calm. And I think we give more grace on the things that once would have tempers exploding. Surprisingly, given we can’t really escape each other, we have fewer conflicts that go to “explode phase.” Parents of teen-agers: you know exactly how hard it can be to navigate the landmines of adolescence and hormones and successfully avoid conflicts that end in explosions. So yeah, we are proud that we can sometimes make it weeks—during a global pandemic!—without triggering slammed doors, tears, or an F-bomb.

3. Thanksgiving Dinner Can Be Two Hours Late.

We are (so) far from perfect. We can get irritated at stupidest things. We spend way too much time on the weekends binge watching our latest “discovered” series. We sleep in longer than we used to. And Thanksgiving dinner was two hours late. But hey, it’s okay. We are just doing the best we can right now and it’s not going to be perfect.

"So often in life, things that you regard as an impediment turn out to be great, good fortune." ―RGB

4. We talk more.

Game NightThere are no movie theaters to go to where we might sit together, but mostly can’t talk without the shushing of others. There aren’t many places to drive to where we are crammed in a car together, but listening to music, a podcast, or even plugged into a personal device. There’s no more sitting at the sidelines of an outdoor or indoor entertainment center, while watching kids cavort and play. There are fewer errands to run, no drop-off and pick-ups to do, no events to attend, and no social engagements to rush off to.

The personal collisions that used to happen from 8-5 at school or at work with our colleagues and friends, are now limited to a single space and to just the four of us. Our home has become the heart of our lives; we seek each other out in different ways. As we need breaks from staring at our electronic devices in isolation, we take circuitous routes through the house on the way to the kitchen (for snacks we don’t need) and along the way pop in to ask others, “What are you are doing?” We watch and talk all through a show that just a few months before we wouldn’t have all come together to watch; pausing it when our discussion, sparked by the show or randomly emerged, wants for our full attention. 

5. We have created our own secret family code.

“If I help you with the leaves, will I still be your third favorite daughter?” our twelve, almost thirteen-year-old asks. I say, “I think it should move you up to first favorite daughter status,” (her brother is sitting at second favorite son). Dad disagrees, “This ties you with the lamp.” She laughs and rolls her eyes. The conversation is coded with meaning that evolved from this particular period in our lives, references that may be part of our family banter years from now.

6. Our lives have slowed down

My sense of time has new elasticity shaped by a sameness in each day. Sometimes the weeks seem to stretch endlessly; sometimes the days on the calendar fly by so quickly that an anniversary or a birthday is upon us before we can blink. Perhaps not by choice, but because we’ve had to let go of many diverse things that used to distinguish our everyday lives, we’ve discovered the value of slowing down.

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” ―Søren Kierkegaard

7. Our world is smaller, but so are some problems.

We don’t get overly upset at what now seems like the “small stuff”: a grade (or four) that went from B to D, getting caught still up at 2:00 a.m. playing electronic games, watching a show that’s off-limits, putting off work projects until the last minute, or eating the last ice-cream sandwich without asking. It’s not that some of these things don’t have consequences, but if that’s the worst of “bad behavior” given all we are navigating, we call it a “win” right now.

8. We spend less to live simply and more to live safely.

We don’t shop for new clothes and shoes; we don’t buy tickets to go out and be entertained by others. We do pay for the preparation and delivery convenience of groceries and ready-made meals from local restaurants.

9. We have more gratitude.

We are grateful that we have good paying jobs right now that allow us these extra conveniences. We are grateful to those who do jobs that allow us to “live” remotely as well. Despite protests to the contrary, we are grateful for the small galley kitchen, often too crowded with all six of us (if you count the dogs—and my husband does). Even as we are tempted to shoo anyone out who isn’t helping with more than longwinded commentaries or looking for food they can pop in their mouths, we are also grateful for the laughter, the jostling contact with other humans, and the normalcy of the teasing for not adequately washing the dishes.

It wasn’t until after the funeral, in a conversation with his dad while planting seeds in their garden, that the boy identified the tenth good thing about Barney.

“Will he help make flowers and leaves?” the boy asked his father.

And his father replied, “He will. He’ll help grow the flowers, and he’ll help grow that tree and some grass.”

10. We are co-creating new meaning.

Happy New YearAs we look towards celebrating a new year and reflecting on this past year, none in our family has any “best” insight into what this next year will bring. The combined years of experience, education, and life’s perspective that my husband and I have, has no better advantage than that of our kids who use YouTube and TikTok to learn anything of interest, keep their finger on the pulse of news and opinions through other social media, and intuitively navigate the technologies used in the current world. As we bring together what we know and understand from the various resources we rely upon, our family explores how this time might shape the world and our future.

Still walking my learning journey,

Erica

In reflection:

What are you mourning the loss of?
What is your tenth good thing? 

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