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Challenge: Class of 2020

Blank Spaces

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I’ve had a lot of time to think recently. Mostly about how grateful I am that my family is safe and healthy, and that for the most part our coronavirus quarantine, while inconvenient, is manageable. I know that isn’t true for a lot of Americans and citizens throughout the world.

Yet still, in my rare moments alone, I find myself grieving. And if I’m being brutally honest, it’s not just about the lives lost or the workers on the frontline, or the most vulnerable populations suffering worse fates than before the pandemic. I’m praying for them, of course. But I’m also grieving my own missed milestones. The milestones I carelessly took for granted until mid-March 2020 when they were erased from our family calendar as if the events were meaningless, leaving nothing but blank spaces.

Often thoughts go to milestones that are ceremonial. My neighbors and their families were counting the days to high school graduation (Congratulations, Thomas, Jack, and the Class of 2020!). Another neighbor, a young father, was looking forward to cutting the umbilical cord in a hospital delivery room alongside his wife. Still more, members of our church community were planning spring weddings and First Holy Communions. My own family was looking forward to attending a friend’s bat mitzvah. When suddenly everything felt over before it had even started.

And then there are other milestones, otherwise known as rites of passage. These special events are subtle but packed with meaning. A first date, getting your braces off, a driver’s license, or ordering a cocktail at a restaurant on your twenty-first birthday.

The subtle milestones. That’s probably what I’ll grieve the most.

My daughter will miss reading Romeo and Juliet aloud with her eighth-grade English class coupled with a visit to the Baltimore Shakespeare Factory. My youngest won’t get to perform Peter Pan in her spring musical, an endeavor countless volunteers and students worked hundreds of hours to prepare for. Volleyball tournaments, vocal lessons, and visits from grandparents crossed out one by one on the all-knowing family calendar.

There is much more to the increasing number of blank spaces on the family calendar than just the cancelled events themselves. There is the loss of an emotional component, the doing-ness, that adds value and depth to our lives. Milestones are universal. When we acknowledge and celebrate them, our lives are filled with purpose. The achievement of them, big or small, collective or individual, reminds us that we are capable and strong.

Milestones mark time and help us psychologically process that our lives are moving forward. They are harbingers of change, often signaling that we are ready for whatever comes next. These transitional life moments are deeply rooted in who we are and who we will become.

So what do we do when these milestones, or more accurately the collective acknowledgement and celebration of these milestones, are postponed indefinitely or cancelled, leaving giant blank spaces on our calendar and nothing to fill it?

It’s a small thing, but I offer you this: Go with the change. Don’t fight it. This is really hard. If you find yourself mourning the loss of an event, whether it be for you, your child, or someone you love, you are not alone. Do it. Mourn. I am with you. Let’s allow ourselves to feel the deep loss of life’s precious transitions.

And then, let’s get on with doing. In whatever new form that takes.

I’m hoping that some of the things I am doing today will stay with me even after life returns to a new normal. I’m working in my garden more, something I tend to put off. My family and I are spending more time together in the kitchen cooking, whereas I typically prepare meals alone because it’s quicker and easier. I’m enjoying more of the television and videos my children often beg me to watch.

When I finish here, I’ll take my dog for another walk around the neighborhood.

Winter is turning to spring.

A rebirth.

A rite of passage just on the opposite side of my front door. All I have to do is open it.

(Photo credit to Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash.)

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