What will you leave behind

Life may not ever go back to normal, but what if there's more for us on the other side?

I was sitting in my junior year psychology class, next to Andy, behind Jessica and Melanie, three of my closest friends at the time. They announced over the PA system that a plane had hit one of the Twin Towers in New York City and that teachers were to keep classroom televisions turned off. 

The season that followed was filled with uncertainty, with fear. Trips were canceled because flying felt recklessly unsafe. Our safe, idyllic way of life felt chillingly threatened for the first time in my middle class suburban life. There was a fresh rallying cry of patriotism, of unity as Americans during that time, at least through my eyes. 

I wondered then, as I wonder now: when will things go back to normal? Nearly twenty years later, I know now that they won’t. 

We’ll divide life into “before” and “after” coronavirus. We won’t be the same after this global pandemic. Some things are over for good, some things are changed and some things will just feel different on the other side. But “normal” wouldn’t even feel quite right if things returned to the way they were before.

I couldn’t have fathomed a few weeks ago that I’d be silently criticizing people who were still going in the grocery store, especially without a mask. That I’d forget, for just a moment, that when someone coughed on a video call that they weren’t putting me at risk of catching any germs. That I’d be praying that our children wouldn’t return to school this school year, for fear that it would be too soon. I’m grieving all of that normal, as well as all of the energy I’m spending trying to balance appropriate caution with excessive worry. 

At the same time, this global disruption to our routine has operated like a spotlight revealing the truth about our actual priorities, our real motivations, and how we chose to spend our time. This season is an invitation to something truer, shaking off the excess and embracing the best parts of ourselves and the lives we lead. 

This time at home has cast a magnifying glass on how I schedule my free time. Forever, it seems, I have overfilled our calendar and my family has suffered for the lack of margin. My children are thriving at home right now simply because my husband and I are home, and so are they. In our life “before,” we had way too many places to be and things to attend. 

We squeezed things in where we could find time, and we never rested unless a practice or a meeting was miraculously canceled. Our kids are calmer and happier right now, and we are more rested and peaceful than ever. 

Very early into this season at home, it occurred to me that the reason I overschedule our lives is because, deep down, I don’t think my friends will be there for me if we don’t have plans together on the calendar. That our kids need to have a lot of experiences and activities to have a well-rounded childhood. But this season has poked a million holes in those hidden motivations and false beliefs, and thank goodness for that. 

We all have a chance right now to refine, to leave behind the things that haven’t served us well right here in this season. On the other side, we won’t be the same. We won’t go back to normal, we’ll leave this pattern that wasn’t serving us well, magnified in this season, behind. 

And, perhaps, not going back to normal will be ok, better even. Perhaps what’s ahead of us is even greater than what we’re leaving behind, or at the very least we’re better versions of ourselves moving forward into the unknown futures ahead of us.


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Colleen Cook works full-time as the Director of Operations at Vinyl Marketing in Ashland, where she resides with her husband Mike and three young daughters. She's an insatiable extrovert who enjoys finding reasons to gather people.