All that we are is a story.
Richard Wagamese

Above all, be the heroine in your own story.
Nora Ephron

Once upon a time, there was a pandemic….

You know the story. We’ve all been part of this unfolding drama for more than a year – one that was thrust upon us, demanding much.  Years from now we will be able to say we were a witness to what happened.  The long arc of this story, as all of us know, is not over.  The third wave, of which we are in the midst, is making sure of that.

Despite the COVID numbers, it seems like a good time to reflect on our own pandemic story. Maybe it’s the sunshine and warmer weather. Maybe it’s the vaccination roll out. Or maybe it’s COVID fatigue that calls for a time out to take stock of where we are.   

In many ways, the story of this pandemic has been framed as one about heroes and heroines. That includes each of us with our stories situated within this grand tale of the century and accompanied by the hope that life will eventually be better.

We tend to think of heroes as those who jump into the fray: first responders, front line workers, those in health care, and the many who work under the radar- making deliveries, stocking shelves, and working in factories and essential services- usually at low wages. They most certainly are heroes and heroines, but they’re not the only ones.

My time during COVID has been mostly spent at home and given what others have been doing, it’s never felt like a contribution- or story- that amounted to much. I must remind myself that’s hardly true.  In this pandemic, much should be made of those who have remained home to slow the spread of the virus. Those who refrained from meeting in groups; those who looked after children while working from home (not sure how anyone does that); those who do the everyday stuff at a distance from others. No one commends the one who tends the home fires, but home fires must be tended.  Remaining home needed to happen and it makes each of us a protagonist in the COVID narrative.

Each of our stories early on likely involved shock, fear, and grief while we sheltered in place. It also included the casting aside of best laid plans- what could be described as the “Great Dismantlement of (our) Grand Ambitions” * Most people I know had plans upended.

My own story has been a container for a range of emotions including weariness, joy, resignation, relief, hope, and frustration with my introversion taking up the whole room some days.  I’ve tried new things (dance class, knitting, and recipes) and spent time gazing at the trees and sky. I’ve also spent too much time in front of Netflix, ate too much bread, revolted at the idea of cooking some days, and endured a spate of bad hair days.

Guilt at not doing much. Happy not to do too much.  Forgetting what a grand ambition is.

If I were to sum it up, my story at home could be captured as: loss, vague undefinable middle, and reclaim.

The comfortable structure of days was lost.  So was gainful employment (due to retirement); running (due to an injury); and writing (due to writer’s block); not to mention social gatherings, familiar routines, and travel plans.

Reclaiming involves decerning what to recover, what to let go, and changing the lens through which I look at the world.  To that end, I decided brisk walking is another form of running.  My work has not stopped. It is now writing- even if that means sitting in front of the computer with little to say.  I’ve lost some old routines but acquired new ones.  Cancelled social gatherings have created space to decide which connections and relationships really matter.

The experience of loss was swift.  The process of reclaiming has been slow.  It’s the middle ground between loss and reclaim that’s been tough.  Ah… the vague undefinable middle– that hard to describe place that is supposed to be a bridge from loss to reclaim but which feels like a walk through the wilderness in fog. Sometimes the fog lifts and I can see my way through with utter clarity; other times, I am lost in a dense forest in search of a clearing.  How do I move out of this, I ask myself?

Experiencing loss, traversing the vague middle, and taking steps at reclaiming is the heroine’s pandemic journey. It’s a story with subplots, detours, and surprises along the way, even for heroines who remain at home.  Living this story demands great patience, its own brand of fortitude, and no small amount of resourcefulness to navigate the days. ** It may require us to abandon the story we thought we wanted.

Stories can help us make sense of that which we don’t understand, shining a light on the path taken so far, knowing the ending is up for grabs, but trusting we’ll get there.  Stories help show us the way through. That includes acknowledging the loss, moving through the vague middle, and reclaiming only that which we most cherish.

Sometimes I wonder if it wasn’t such a bad thing that my plans had to be set aside. Maybe when the dust settles, there will be room for ambitions that might better serve.  But what are those?

I’m not sure yet.

I do know that sheltering in place revealed blind spots I didn’t know I had; that there was much I took for granted; and that in many ways, less is more. I also know that little bit of less needs to pack a punch. It has to matter.  I’m ready for a grand ambition to draw me into something new. Only two requirements: it should be fun and bring out my wild side.  Maybe the vague undefinable middle is the place to hope and imagine and dream. Some call that planning.

Whatever our story has been, it can change going forward. Are we not longing for a story that captures our imagination and connects us with the larger world? One in which more of us are kinder, wiser, and loving. One in which we are the heroine of a story realizing a grand ambition.  Surely, we are on the threshold of a new chapter in this pandemic story that only asks us to live fully in the corner we inhabit.  Whatever your story, honour it and give voice to it.May every chapter be better than the last.

*This term was coined by Kristine Oller, coach and strategist- https://kristineoller.com/

**This refers to an excellent article that inspired this blog by Christine Fischer Guy (Globe and Mail, March 13, 2021) on the narrative of the pandemic and how we define heroes. Worth a read.

5 thoughts on “What is your pandemic story?

  1. Thank you Audrey! Everyone has a different story within all that we share. I’m so glad you seem to have got past your writer’s block. Good luck through your middle ground journey to “reclaim” and new ambitions.

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  2. Love this Audrey! Our stories have definitely changed due to the pandemic, and for me, what’s become most important is not just what I do, but how I feel. Choosing how I want to feel, and how I want to show up no matter what I can/can’t do. And definitely, like you, having fun is one of those feelings I want 🙂

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  3. Audrey – thank you for expressing what many of us have been feeling! Figuring out what is actually important to us has been one side benefit of our seclusion. Wishing you all the best as you work through the middle ground, along with your retirement. You deserve many blessings!

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