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What have you learned about yourself during this pandemic?

At one of those BYOB/backyard, socially distanced happy hours, a friend asked the question: “What have you learned about yourself during this pandemic?” I thought it was a brilliant question and one that really takes me deep.

It’s so easy to complain about what’s happening out there, criticize the politics, dwell on what’s wrong and feel frustrated with others supposedly in charge. But to be more introspective and closely examine our own growth during this upsetting time is both healing and fascinating to me, and perhaps a chance we’ll never have again.

So, I sent out this question to several friends, all in their 70s and 80s, because I think it affects us differently than younger people who may be dealing with children, big career issues, financial stresses and other concerns. Not that we’re not dealing with some of these issues, too. We are just in a different place in our lives where they may not be so prevalent.

Many people talked about things “out there,” such as “I’ve learned that no one’s in charge.” That’s different from what we’ve learned about ourselves. Some of my learnings, so far, have been:

Do things now, as we just don’t know what the future, or even tomorrow, will bring; be in the moment. I have learned I have an inner strength, yet I melt down into all sorts of emotions at times.Being in nature helps me see things in the larger perspective that seems critical right now. I am a people person and the quarantine is difficult, so regular talks with friends and family on the phone are important. Yet, I’m good at being alone, too.I have learned to see my kids in a different light – their strengths, creativity and tenacity in working, having kids at home and in deciding the complicated school issues for my grandchildren.There is so much inequality in the world and I am extremely privileged. Other people were all over the board also, and here are some of their insights:

My small, close neighborhood community is so important for me now; also my friendships and other relationships; I am much more comfortable just staying home.My thoughts are so impermanent; my gratitude practice has helped me combat judgment.I’m not as good a sport as I thought I was; I am fragile but I’m learning to speak out more.I have a greater dependence on nature to bring me peace and grounding without fail; healthy food and good water have become more important; I need emotional comfort from my animals; I’m more able to laugh at myself; I feel loved and cared for more deeply.I must dwell in the moment, I don’t want to return to the past and it’s fruitless for me to predict the future. The only solace is in the moment – which is fresh with every breath.I appreciate more the time or communication I do have with others. I am intensely appalled at the suffering and mess, but retain an optimistic long view.I have learned not to worry about things I can’t control and to spend effort on things I can actually do, contribute to or influence.What is going on in the country and the extra time given has taught me to be more honest with myself. It mirrors so many things ... my prejudices and my assumptions are now all being reflected back to me. And I don’t always like what I see!I have discovered that I am centered, stable and yet flexible, more than I thought I could be. This is the closest I have come to not imagining a future, and that is OK. I am living a reality that is now more of the time.Such thoughtful and genuine discoveries we have had! This crisis has brought out some good things; more empathy, more awareness, maybe more strength during challenging times. And certainly more creativity in how we try to stay connected during isolation. Are these the rich gifts we’ve been looking for?

Martha McClellan was a developmental educator in early childhood for 38 years. She has moved her focus now to the other end of life and written the book “The Aging Athlete: What We Do to Stay in the Game.” Reach her at mmm@bresnan.net.