Conversations over the past nine months have inescapably turned from whatever topic they were about to COVID-19. That’s not exactly a surprise—a worldwide pandemic that has majorly disrupted lives and the economy is bound to creep into what you say aloud when it’s spinning through your daily thoughts most of the time. Whenever we talk to other people, whether they’re family, friends, or strangers, we look for common ground, and 2020 provided a common ground for everyone. It’s very easy to commiserate with just about anyone about the things lost this year, from gathering with friends for a birthday to big travel plans, from school events to weddings, from our own health scares to sympathy and sorrow for those who were lost to the illness. What we’ve lost is the primary topic we all return to, opportunities that 2020 had seemed to offer way back in January and then snatched back before we even got to spring.
It’s easy to lose sight of the good things about the year, and in the perpetual cycle of thinking about what we lost, we may not pay attention to the things that we found this year. Obviously, this is just as unique and personal as the things that were lost, but here are some of the things I’ve seen being found.
First and foremost, I found just how important it is to stay connected with my friends and family, which meant exercising the old brain for ways to do it safely and remotely. Zoom bingo, watching Netflix movies with a friend while we both sat on our own couches, food drop-off exchanges with my parents. My phone calls got longer, and I found myself working just a little bit harder to make the person on the other end of the line laugh. Connections are vital, and I found a new creativity in making and strengthening those connections.
A renewed interest and love of hobbies is something that many of my friends talked about, and I joined them. When was the last time I really let myself have the time in the kitchen to bake a four-step dessert or sour dough bread (my trust sourdough starter’s name is Wei Ying)? My sister hauled out her sewing machine, and while masks were the start of her list, she remembered that she enjoyed customizing her clothing with all the flash of a fashion designer. Video games were an escape and a delight. Like many others, I put lots of time into “Animal Crossing,” a game that lets you design your own island paradise. Stuck inside, at least I could let my chubby little digital avatar run around and catch butterflies, make friends with my furry fellow islanders, and build houses and fences and fill my museum. One of the best features? Actual friends who had the game could come virtually visit my island and I could visit theirs’. Ever been to an “Animal Crossing” virtual birthday party? I hadn’t been before 2020, but I think my outfit (I was definitely dressed as a salmon sushi) was my best yet, virtual or in person. I’m sure the birthday girl appreciated it.
While some people felt that they were trapped inside with those they were living with, many people I talked to deepened their relationships with their lockdown-mates. For some, it was an appreciation of a spouse’s dedication to their job, seeing how much daily effort they put in while working from home. For some, it was a joy of shared time, like my friends who decided that all three housemates actually enjoyed puzzle and wine Friday every week as a time to laugh and chat and relax. Numbers of people fostering pets have skyrocketed during the pandemic as people with new time to put into a relationship decide that relationship is of the feline or canine persuasion. (I wonder how many of those fosters ended up as ‘foster fails,’ with a foster situation becoming an adoption?) My dog and I definitely spent some quality time chilling one another out. Science has proven you get a chemical buzz of well-being in the brain when you lock eyes with your dog, and the coolest part is that your dog gets the exact same thing. I tell myself that when I get a well-chewed dog toy in the face in the morning.
So from discovering new skills to embracing old hobbies, from long messages with acquaintances on Instagram to phone calls with a grandparent that you let last for hours, from gourmet dinners that were then eaten on the couch to you and the dog and a package of deli ham shared, celebrate the things you found during the pandemic. The losses are still there, of course, but in a season of introspection and giving, give yourself a pat on the back for what you did to get through and what you learned about yourself. A pandemic will eventually be over, but your video game high score? That’s forever. (Or until your housemate beats it.)