I feel like we have been existing in a fog…a cloud of confusion, fear, anger, angst, sadness, mourning, devastation. An emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual stupor clouding reason and thought and even kindness. An isolating, division-bringing, lonely fog shrouding each of us slightly differently.
We have all seen fog, right?! Those fuzzy mornings on campus, jogging through our neighborhoods, driving to work, or even traversing mountain ranges. It is mystical, mysterious, and magical. It reminds us (well me anyway!) of London and causes my mind to dreamily wander.
Fog can be thick…driving conditions may be dangerous; headlights are rather useless; visibility is the dotted yellow dash ahead and not much else. Our sense of direction is gone. The questions, the insecurities, the uncertainties, the grief rears up and our hearts are left unsettled, scattered, and seemingly directionless.
It can be thin…buildings finely veiled and trees silhouetted. A light mist obscuring the shoreline and steam rising from creeks and ponds. Our identities are slightly hidden, and our minds left wondering about purpose and point. A thin haze over our hearts from the culmination of distractions dividing our time.
And it can be a dim and delicate film brushing the edges and tops of mountains, inviting us to roll down the windows and touch the clouds. A small anxiety teasing our brains. A little thought we brush aside to avoid dealing with it, hoping, like the vague gloom, it will disappear in the sunlight.
It seems like a thick murky fog settled over our country, our world, in March 2020, and it hasn’t really lifted.
Visibility was changing rapidly, every couple months or so. Restrictions were being placed and lifted and changed and re-instated. Promises were made. Progress promised. No changes. No movement forward. Just more and more dense, sticky, suffocating smog.
Restaurants closed. Small businesses disappeared into the abyss. Friends were no longer visible. Noses became a thing of the past. Classrooms, offices, and countries closed. This fog touched every aspect of life. Weddings put on hold, adoptions deferred, educations halted, and much, much, much more. Suspended in a seemingly never-ending unclear state of perpetual unknowing and waiting.
Suspended. That word so accurately describes this past year. Ceasing to make plans. Job hunts halted. Graduations discontinued. Sports seasons kept in a state of postponement. Refraining from seeing family. Avoiding friends for an undetermined time. Moving on stopped. Moving forward impossible. Privileges of all sorts denied and ignored. Life interrupted. Every person paused in expectation of a quick resolution, waiting for the incompleteness to settle itself.
A year later, we find ourselves slightly more animated, but largely still suspended. The foreseeable future still shrouded in political and medical anonymity. Dangling in the unknown and trepidatiously attempting to touch our toes to a foreign and changed ground.
In the last year, we have all had to redefine so many things – connection, hardship, intentionality, relationship, rest, patience, productivity, to name a few. It has been scary, anxiety-inducing, nausea-prompting, and apprehension-filled. We have inched, so very slowly, trying to feel our way through the fog and establish new patterns, routines, and normals.
The biggest re-definition I have found myself confronting is that of “forward.” I have defined it as “going straight ahead; not roundabout; continuously advancing.” To me, it was linear. A bee line. A clear and direct path.
Fun fact: that is the definition of straightforward.
Forward is crooked and broken. Swerving hither and yonder, scaling the walls of my own heart and hurdling hurt, hardship, and less-than-ideal circumstances. It involves skirting potholes, stop-and-go wanderings through obscure hills, harrowing mountains, and dark valleys. Forward is plunging ahead despite feeling like progress is a distant improbability.
See, it does not matter how well or how much we plan or how many color-coded spreadsheets mapping course schedules, grad school programs, backup plans, and second-rate options we make. We cannot plan our lives, and frankly, they are not ours to dictate.
There is not one of us that could predict, foresee, or desire a worldwide pandemic. The truth is we rarely plan on hard, and we never factor in the unknown. A life-changing diagnosis. A miscarriage. A death. A foreclosure. A refusal from a coveted program. A rejection from a suitor, a job, a friend, a [insert your experience here].
“Toward a place or point; onward; to make progress.” This is the definition of forward. And oh how perspective-shifting and vision-altering it is!
How many of us feel expectations on how our journey looks? Align with certain belief systems, major in precise degrees, and pressured for careers that look a certain way? Urgency to be married at a certain age, have kids at a certain time, or have a specific number of children? How many of us have felt constraints on our choice in spouse, our passions, our grief?
How many have felt derailed, trapped, and/or stuck the past year?
Re-read that definition, friends. Notice the lack of mention regarding how that progress is made. It only makes certain that there is onward progress.
Progress free from expectations. Requirements removed. There is no how your journey looks. Only that there is a journey. Friend, let that truth breathe life into your wandering.
Detours are acceptable. There isn’t a map. The perspective that has been held hostage for so long can be restored and the vision so clouded and limited by the world freed.
Embracing an accurate definition of forward allows us immunity from a works-based set of rules and regulations over our lives. A release from the expectations and assumptions of a world steeped in them. We have permission to step into a pilgrimage designed to transform us inside and out.
A pilgrimage that is messy, far from perfect, and slow. One that guarantees treacherous curves and massive inclines and harrowing moments. Seasons of going backwards and seasons of feeling like we are moving in the wrong direction.
The past year has highlighted this truth. Stripped of control and brought face-to-face with our frailty, our disillusioned beliefs concerning the nature of our lives has become disarmingly obvious. Our carefully crafted plans and itineraries have fallen apart in the face of a reality we cannot escape.
Life is unknown. Whether we struggle against it or embrace it, that actuality will not change.
We have been forced to confront our human nature, our desire to hold the reigns, and our fierce individual independence in this unexpected pause. We have each been accosted with the absoluteness that life has always been unknown. Our futures have always been veiled in mist regardless of how well we plot.
Hear me, friend. We have always existed without definite knowledge of our futures.
I never expected a cringe-worthy year full of unwashed laundry, dirty dishes, and time less-than-well-spent. I also never expected a year so rich in growth, heart-transformation, and self-awareness.
And friends, I am so grateful.
Thanks to myriads of persevering folks in science and healthcare, we now have a vaccine that has been promised to deliver us back into regular, normal, busy life. We anticipate the return to freedom, exuberant exchanges, gatherings, hugs, and people.
Let me encourage you to take a breath. The fog has not yet lifted. And maybe, just maybe, it is hovering a little bit longer specifically for you. For you to learn, to sigh, to thrive, to redefine parts of your heart. Maybe it still loiters so you can see the divine interruptions in its wake and the unexpected ways it has redirected your path.
Do not be so quick to return to what you think you have been missing. Look back. Reflect. Remember where you started.
Dare to peek back at the last year of your life. Look at what you have traversed. See the moments you made. Mourn the ones you missed, both intentionally and unintentionally. Search out the joys you experienced and be grateful for the phone calls, the letters, the new puppy you spontaneously adopted one dreary Tuesday.
No matter what the future holds collectively and personally, not even one of us can ultimately predict our paths. We may make choices that determine parts of them, but the whole thing is FAR beyond our greatest stretches of imagination.
Whether you realize it or acknowledge it, our shared foggy season has profoundly changed each one of us. We decide what we take from it. We decide what we move forward with – the lessons, the way we choose to walk through life from now on, the way we define things, the ways we interact with others.
We can choose to forget the fog, ignoring that it ever happened. Or we can choose to hold tight the lessons we learned, leaning into the slower pace, the solidified intentionality, the desire for deep community. We have the option of walking into the next season, the next phase, rejuvenated and freed from a limited and stressful life of making the “right” choice in order to move “forward.”
You and I, we can walk into a post-pandemic world committed to the journey. We can walk confidently knowing and believing that a chaotic season is not bad. Feeling lost is not the end, and a rejection can be a beginning. Be encouraged to this end, friend. There will always be unknowns. There will always be some sort of fog. You and I, we can choose to live redeemed in whatever turn and twist we find ourselves walking through, knowing that slow progress is forward progress.