Yesterday, I took my kids a Memorial Day pool party.
In the beforetimes, this wouldn’t have been a radical statement.
But yesterday, I took my kids to a Memorial Day pool party, and it was weird.
It was also lovely, don’t get me wrong. I actually hugged people. I saw an old friend face-to-face for the first time since, well, way back then, and the first words she said to me were “hell of an eighteen months, right?” We took pictures. There was a lot of laughter. Someone brought a puppy. The kids had a blast.
Despite all this potential for newfound joy, I am cautious. I have a hesitancy inside me now that I’m still coming to terms with. I’m not desperate for human contact and I’m trying to figure out what life actually looks like now, in the aftertimes into which we are all now being born.
By April 16th, I was fully vaccinated plus 14 days. I didn’t go racing toward freedom, though. My kids are too young to be vaccinated yet, and reemergence has been slow to come. It feels as though I have been floating gradually in the direction of outside, but how to get my head around what it means is another story.
Outside has been a place of fear for a long time now. In January, when my county had hundreds dying daily and a peak infection rate of around 5500 people a day, stepping outside felt like it could literally kill you.
Like all of us, I am emerging from trauma, and with not a small amount of grief. Some days, I’m not sure I want to go out. Most days, I know there are things I don’t ever want to go back to-- not ever, not ever, not ever again.
We’ve been in the middle of a purge here—getting rid of all the clothes my kids have outgrown during a year and a half inside, old toys and books, and things that, well, no longer suit us. Over the last few weeks, the donation pile in our garage has gotten bigger and bigger. We know what we are done with now.
In similar ways, there are certain things that simply outlived their usefulness to me during the pandemic. Booze was one. I’m coming up on a full year sober now, with no regrets. Another was that voice inside my head that kept saying I couldn’t handle single parenting, that I would never be good enough in that role, which was patently false. Yet another was a lifelong tendency toward overwork, and the precarious nature of financial instability in entrepreneurship that drives the hustle.
Things have changed. And what I long for now is a far more intimate life, one filled with joy but also with real conversation, real love, real grounded and safe relationships, and real space.
I want my kids to know security, and I want to know it for myself. I want it like a lover who sleeps next to me every night and wraps me in comfort and safety. I want a slower pace of life.
Trauma is exhausting. Living under constant threat is exhausting.
And the palpable needs I have now relate to living a life of meaning and resonance and gravity and experience and maturity.
The superficial has died in my world. And there is so much work left to be done.
For my whole life, I’ve been afraid of being late. When I was a kid, my dad was the parent who would arrive at the airport three hours early for a flight, even one for a vacation. I inherited this trait. I rush to get out the door on time. I am anxious when I arrive close to the scheduled time, and much better when I arrive ten minutes early. This has a been the story of my entire adult life.
But lately, I find myself wanting not to rush. I just want to walk slowly, and not push myself. I’m not interested in racing back to a life that doesn’t fit any longer, like the clothes my kids have outgrown.
Patience. Deep breaths. And patience. Maybe it’s ok to be on time, not early. Maybe it’s ok to relax, and just open the door.
In recent weeks, my team and I have been engaged in a fairly radical discussion about whether it makes sense to shut down my company—the company I founded a decade ago to further women’s leadership. Our lifeblood for ten years had been in-person training of women executives and leadership teams engaged in growing and retaining diverse talent.
It was a good thing while it lasted. A really good thing.
But then last May, our second in command passed away fairly suddenly, and the fact of her irreplaceability became a harbinger for more profound shifts. All our in-person training work dried up during the pandemic. Our virtual work barely made it out of 2020, because my brain couldn’t wrap itself around what it meant to train people to advance when advancement didn’t look anything like what it once did. We lost 85% of our revenue in one year, and I had to find other ways of keeping the company afloat.
The brand became something else.
I became something else.
I have always been the driving force behind the company, with a seemingly endless reserve of energy for the grind of it, but I am not who I was at the start of this, and I can’t go back to who I was.
This is not necessarily a bad thing.
I’m more grounded than I have ever been, more aware of my makeup and where I’ve undervalued myself historically, but also more aware of the places where I want to continue to grow and change. All those things I’d been questing after, all those supposed markers of success, well, they don’t feel quite so relevant now.
I finished a book during the pandemic, against all the odds of doing so as a single parent with kids at home full-time. It comes out next month, and it is full of life and magic and what it means to step completely into who you are. In ways that I didn’t understand as I was writing it, it’s allowed me to become more fully who I am meant to be.
I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that my purpose has always been best realized when I am focused on creating political change and undermining oppression wherever it lives. I’m anchored now in why I’m here.
It’s a different means of professional life—one that lives outside the system, in some ways at least, rather than within it. I don’t yet know the totality of how it will come into form, but I am opening the door to what it might be.
For the remainder, I want to be a good mother to my children. I want to be engaged in real conversations, private and public, about overturning systems that harm and creating real repair. I want to be an author and a public intellectual. I want to go deep, way beyond the surface, in driving real change.
And the time of my life that was measured by false metrics of success, where I plowed forward in furtherance of the systemically defined, unsustainable standards of what constitutes an important life—well, that moment, for me, is over. It’s time for my life to be big in other ways.
I’ve finally settled into the idea that work can be resonant for me, and that I can receive and not just give on the path to creating a better world.
Opening the door requires vulnerability now. We have the chance to step outside into a new reality, to re-evaluate what matters, and commit to a new way of being. We have a chance to commit to real change.
We’re in the middle of a national reckoning in so many ways, one that is long overdue and that has the potential for real justice. We owe it to ourselves to commit to being better, to being different, to finding value in what we know to be real and true and meaningful.
We are obligated, I would argue, to do that for ourselves as well as for our nation.
We do not know the full scope of what is coming, but we have the capacity to mold and shape it, and we can commit to making it powerful and grounded and equitable and real. We can commit to not going back. We can commit to relationships and to connection and value, to doing it right, to ending systems that ruin instead of renew us, to ending violence in favor of peace.
Indeed, we can refuse to be afraid of change and transformation, and instead stand vulnerable and thoughtful and even intrigued as we consider how to create a better world, and take action toward it. We can acknowledge our trauma, be willing to make mistakes on the road of healing, and move forward with grace.
We can create a real belonging that we’ve never had, if we are willing to open the door to that future.
We can let the sunshine in.
We can choose rebirth.
We can decide, with a lot of curiosity and not a small measure of courage, to step outside and, each in our own measure, to enter into the change that’s coming next.