By: Lime Green Giraffe Copy Editor, Lillabeth B.

In September, I stopped reading the news. I just couldn’t take it anymore. Every day there was some new crisis, some new way politicians were spreading fear, some new tragedy to add to all the horrors our country had endured.

Remember January and February 2020? Remember the hope and optimism we had? I’m certain that many people could be quoted declaring 2020 was going to be their year. Maybe we all collectively jinxed ourselves. Our former excitement for 2020 seems terribly ironic now. One look at the front page of a newspaper, and I can’t help but think, How did this happen? Why is this happening to us? as though there could ever be a good reason.

When I’m faced with such unfathomably big questions, I tend to do what a lot of people do. I bring it up with my best friend. She always helps me sort it out.

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know Maya Orthous. She and I have been in the same theatre program since we were kids, but we didn’t get to know each other until two years ago when we were counselors at a drama summer camp. We’ve been inseparable since. On the surface, we seem like opposites: She’s short and I’m tall. She’s a realist and I’m a dreamer. She’s incredibly organized and focused, and I’m, simply put, a mess. But our ambition, curiosity, and slightly insane natures bring us together, and our differences just keep it exciting. One day, at my house, she noticed a photo of me chubby-faced elementary schooler me in my bright pink tutu for a dance recital. “I have that same costume,” she said, and we discovered we had been in the same kindergarten tap dance class. That’s when I knew for sure that she and I would be in each other's lives for a long, long time. Our rapport is so strong that we finish each other’s sentences, and we can talk about absolutely anything, from school drama to personal dilemmas to politics.

Recently, we were eating brunch outside at our favorite spot, with the sun peaking over the trees. As we sipped our coffees, I asked her if she struggles with the same feelings of hopelessness that I do. 

“I usually don’t see myself as a hopeful person,” she said, “and I do look at the negatives a lot, but I think I’ve proven to myself that I can bring hope in really bad situations and try to think positively. I’m a very big control freak, but our concept of the virus changes so fast, so I’ve just had to learn how to not worry as much and how to be ok with not being able to control what’s gonna happen next. It’s hard, though. It took time.”

How to be okay with not being in control. It made me think of a mantra of mine since my childhood, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” It may seem like a non sequitur, but whenever my mom sent me off to school in the morning, she would repeat it to me as a reminder. She meant for me to use it to cope with the drama of elementary and middle school: the teasing and bullying, my social anxiety, the little comments and hypocrisies that would so easily offend and provoke me. This advice used to confuse me because, at the time, these moments did not feel small. The humiliation and shame of those seconds expanded to take up my entire day, my entire mind. It was only as I became more aware of the world outside my bubble that I saw how silly it was to work myself up over someone else’s actions, which I had no control over and which only affected me if I let them. The awareness of my own relative insignificance was something of a relief.

But what do you do when the problems of the outside world suddenly begin to encroach on your own and change it irrevocably? Once again, I realized I was missing the forest for the trees. Our pre-COVID-19 systems had not served everyone equally and often favored one class, race, or gender identity over another. Now, these discrepancies are blatantly obvious.

Maya agreed. “We are noticing what is wrong with our society, and now that we can concretely say, ‘This is not working and here’s the evidence and here’s the reason for it,’ we can fix it. That’s where my hope comes from.”

This comment gets us to talking about the Black Lives Matter movement, and how--or whether--quarantine catalyzed it. “I think it was just time for it,” Maya asserts, “but the pandemic really emphasized it. People were already stuck in their houses looking at the news, and the whole world was focused on Black Lives Matter or COVID-19.”

I also feel as though, for the first time in my life, I am living in a moment in which history could truly be made, and I could be part of it. The Black Lives Matter movement of 2020 has been an incredibly powerful presence in the American psyche, and while it called attention to the horrors of the nation’s past and present. I think history is happening all around us. 

In fact, the pandemic shifted my entire perspective. I understand more fully the privileges I have been given, which has led me to become a fierce advocate and even work for a non-profit.  I believe I can be an active part of a push for change. As Maya puts it, “We see the fighting and we see the protesting and there’s no more ‘Oh, I think…’ It’s more like, ‘Oh, I see now, so let’s fight for change.’ And the hope is that eventually it will happen because the problems we’re seeing are so evident now.”

The pandemic has also made it clearer what I need to do to feed my soul and stay sane. For Maya, her curiosity flourished. “I was like, ‘I’m gonna learn as much as I can,’ and I wrote a whole thesis on a dictator. Now when I’m in the car, I listen to this podcast where someone speaks Italian and makes you repeat it. I think that’s one thing--no matter where I am or what I do I’ll always be learning something.”

For my part, I learned to take care of my relationship with myself. My time stuck in my house alone forced me to sit down with my thoughts and take stock of who I am. Maya felt the same way. “The pandemic gave me the time to be bored, and I was never really able to be bored. I always had something or had something to do. I’m always like, ‘I need to do this before I can eventually help this person or make this change,’ but I really got time to focus on myself.” Maya took physical steps toward self-care, like skincare and organization. My process was more mental, trying to build my confidence. I keep returning to a quote by Joan Didion, one of my favorite writers: “To live without self-respect is to lie awake some night...counting up the sins of commissions and omission, the trusts betrayed, the promises subtly broken, the gifts irrevocably wasted through sloth or cowardice, or carelessness. However long we postpone it, we eventually lie down alone in that notoriously uncomfortable bed, the one we make ourselves. Whether or not we sleep in it depends, of course, on whether or not we respect ourselves.” This bed is what quarantine was for the world. By the end, I was sleeping soundly.

And last but not least, the pandemic helped me see who in my life was most important to me. For both Maya and I, family stood out. “There are some days that we’re at each other’s throats,” she said with a giggle, “but this is such a crucial year because next year I’m going off to college, and I think it was a blessing in disguise that we got all this time together.”  Before the pandemic, each of us were so busy that we didn’t even spend much time with our families. In many ways, my parents were getting to know the person I’ve become for the first time, and we spent lots of overdue quality time together. Our relationship is stronger, deeper, and more nuanced than it’s ever been.

I also took the opportunity to spend time, albeit socially distanced, with friends who I hadn’t seen for a while, or who were about to leave for college. Oh, and someone else too… That cheekily grinning girl sitting across from me, finishing her croissant. As I reached over to turn off our recording, I asked Maya if she had anything else to say. In a high, sing-song voice, she coos, “I love you, Lillabeth!” I began to press the button, and she said, “You better keep that in.”

Oh, I love that girl. I think she’s a keeper.

No comments:

Post a Comment