by Teresia Smith
At the end of every year, reflecting on the past and thinking about the future are natural steps. Reflections are intended as an opportunity to look back and examine how we felt about the past year and using that information to shape the next year into what we hope it will be using the lessons we learned. We seem to always rate the prior year as either good or bad and start making plans to fashion the next year better. We rush to make resolutions, which are usually discarded within a few weeks. I have always heard that the reason your windshield is bigger than your rearview mirror is because you should be looking ahead much more than looking behind. While I totally agree with that sentiment, I also think we need to discover any lessons we may have learned from the past. 2020 was a hard year for most, in differing ways. But many times, it’s in the hard times that we learn the most. I’d like to share a few things I learned from 2020 and maybe my experiences will be useful.
Things don’t always go the way we plan. In April 2020, we had a lot of great plans and ideas to bring awareness and support to sexual assault survivors. Events lined up, support groups, speaking engagements, displays all ready to go. Then Covid-19 cancelled everything, but new plans were hatched. We learned a lot about ways to deliver our services digitally and we continue to reach out in every way we can imagine to share information and support to survivors. Instead of throwing in the towel and saying there’s no way to continue, we rolled up our sleeves and went to work figuring out how to make it happen. Remember the old saying “necessity is the mother of invention”? It’s true and we discovered new ways of reaching even more survivors so even though we would not have planned this, it has had advantages.
Life can change quickly. Who would have ever thought that so rapidly our country, and the world, could have been brought to its knees? Few were prepared to shut everything down and stay at home. Little things we take for granted, such as having toilet paper, were suddenly big things. Loss of jobs and incomes, having to quarantine after exposure, restrictions causing businesses to close, and schools closing and resorting to e-learning are just a few of the ways our lives have changed. To find a positive lesson, it has helped us to realize we are not invincible and we should be appreciative of all we have. We need to prepare for the future but we cannot lose the moment we are in. Tell your family and friends how much they mean to you and that you love them. Get to know your neighbors as you never know when you may need them. Having extra time with my family has helped me to realize we all need to slow down a little and spend time together. Some of our best times this year have been family car rides where we just ride around and talk.
Strength looks much differently than what we have always thought it looked. We have this preconceived notion that the strong person has all the answers, fixes everything, and makes it all okay and never falters. But that is far from the truth. Sometimes the strong person just works to manage their own fears. It’s the mom who tries to make things appear more normal for her kids to relieve their fears. Although exhausted and anxious herself, she tries to make virtual school fun for her kids, takes the family on walks or plays games to occupy their minds, cuddles up for movie times, and tells the kids that although she doesn’t have all the answers to their questions, they will be fine together – that is strength. At some point, though, even strong people must let go and allow themselves to grieve the losses. It’s okay to admit you are struggling. When you have a safe place to share your feelings, it opens up opportunity for healing. It’s okay to not always be okay.
Relationships matter. You may not live near your family; however, you interact with various people every day, and you form relationships within those interactions. Invest in your community and get to know those with whom you intermingle. Using technology, the world has become even smaller and we still have a chance to show up for our friends. Do the drive-by birthday greetings, send a card or social media note to encourage someone, wave and smile as you pass a stranger. This year, I have tried to post encouragement on social media, reach out and say hello to those I haven’t been seeing in person, and look for opportunities to be a blessing. There’s a difference in loneliness and being alone. We can help someone feel less lonely just with a kind word or note.
Just because life has changed doesn’t mean we can just sit down and stop. We have to keep going, keep fighting for good, keep believing that tomorrow we may reach our goals, and keep being optimistic about the future. Covid-19 has caused many things to crumble but it cannot steal our mindset if we keep optimism in our heart. We have learned that many things that used to upset us really don’t matter much anymore. Relationships matter so much more than anything we can accumulate. And, it is critical to care for you. Invest in yourself by allowing time and space to recharge your mind, heart and spirit. Place importance on your health. We all have a desire to be here for our family and friends and that means we must care for our health.
Hard times can still produce good fruits and can be a catalyst to work for a better future. I have learned many lessons from 2020 – slow down and really live each day, practice self-care, tell my people how much they mean to me, keep going in tough times, lighten my load if needed, traditions are awesome but it’s okay to make new ones, etc. If I had not been forced to go through 2020, some of those lessons may have passed me by. They say diamonds are formed from being under pressure and 2020 certainly provided pressure so I plan to look for the diamonds it produced and be grateful.
Crisis Services of North Alabama offers free services for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence in a safe, confidential setting. You may reach us at our Jackson County office 256.574.5826 or our 24/7 HELPline 256.716.1000 or you may email me at Teresia@csna.org for other options.