Permission to Be Human: Lessons from a Global Pandemic

I was watching the news the other evening when the anchor, reporting from his living room, began to have difficulties with his video quality. The image kept freezing and pixellating as he tried to deliver the news. The station cut to commercial, and a couple minutes later, he was back.

"Sorry about that," he said. "I figured out what happened. Turns out my two-year-old can't stream her cartoons at the same time Daddy's doing his broadcast." He shrugged. Laughed. What can you do? It's 2020.

I found this moment endearing, because it was so...real. Something normally so polished and perfected in the pre-pandemic days, like the nightly news broadcast, was suddenly distilled into a bare microcosm of what it means to be human - and all the trials and tribulations that go along with that experience.

Along with a study guide for an upcoming exam, the TAs from my sociology class sent an email urging everyone to engage in self-care. It's been a hard year, and school is stressful. Please prioritize your own well-being.

Someone I know posted a selfie on social media, one corner of her mouth lifted in a resigned half-smirk. In the background, her messy living room and filthy children were visible. The overall air was one of chaos. She wrote about how she was forgiving herself for not living up to her own expectations as a mother, because she was exhausted and just didn't have it in her to do anything beyond the bare minimum. These are strange times. I am choosing to show up with forgiveness and compassion for myself.

This year, I've witnessed more honest and authentic conversations about people's experiences with mental health than I ever have before. This sharing, this's something I believe we've never fully allowed ourselves to do. Everyone's struggling. Fuck it...I'm going to say out loud that I am, too.

A member of my family texts me every time she goes to the store. Just checking in - do you need me to pick up anything for you? It's 2020 and we've got to take care of each other.

I fully believe that, in so many ways, our collective humanity has never been more visible.

This seems like a strange claim to make, in an era in which we are so divided. The division has been stark and undeniable this year - but equally as prominent have been the following truths:

  1. We need each other.

  2. Nothing is perfect.

  3. We are all doing the best we can with the tools we have.

This year has been so very, very messy - and so damn beautiful, because within that mess is where we find our humanity. The truth of who we are as human beings doesn't live within our clean kitchens and styled hair and perfectly balanced schedules. Our humanity is the mess. It's that great big ball of tangled yarn that's buried within all of us: our joy, our pain, our rawness, our vulnerability, our brutality, our aching, our yearning, our love, our passion, our regret, our fear, and our chaos.

And during this pandemic, when life as we know it has ground to a halt and we've all had to pivot and adapt and make do in whatever ways we can, with whatever resources are available to us...the tangles within us have been given room to rise to the surface.

For so many, working from home does not allow for perfect performance. Being suddenly thrust into home-schooling one's children does not allow for perfect parenthood. The widespread atmosphere of uncertainty does not allow for perfect emotional well-being. Massive changes in our day-to-day lives do not allow for perfect maintenance of the status quo.

In 2020, there is no room for perfection. What we are left with instead, is our humanity. And the result has been nothing short of beautiful. I've seen more compassion, honesty, authenticity, vulnerability, and acts of love this year than perhaps at any other era in my life. During this pandemic, it seems so many of us have gotten better at shrugging our shoulders, laughing it off, and extending grace to ourselves and one another. It’s 2020, we say. So be it.

This year, though, will end. Someday, perhaps fairly soon, life will probably begin to feel a little less chaotic and a little more normal. A little less unpredictable and a little more stable. A little less what-in-the-bad-dystopian-movie-hell-is-this and a little more...manageable. Eventually, the imminent threat of this pandemic will decrease, and something akin to life as we knew it will have the opportunity to fill the empty space.

And, when it does...we'll still be here, fabulous, complicated, chaotic, needy creatures that we are. We will still be deserving of love, compassion, and empathy. We will still have the ability to extend those graces to others. We will still be imperfect. We will still be tangled. We will still be messy.

When the pandemic ends, we will still be human.

My sincerest hope is that we will not forget.

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© 2020 by Ali Owens​