If you saw Atlas, the giant who holds the world on his shoulders, if you saw that he stood, blood running down his chest, his knees buckling, his arms trembling but still trying to hold the world aloft with the last of his strength, and the greater his effort the heavier the world bore down upon his shoulders - What would you tell him?
I…don't know. What…could he do? What would you tell him?
― Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged
This idea that the world can go on without us, that Atlas doesn't need to carry the world, but has been convinced that it will fall if he doesn't, plays out in many ways in our daily lives. We convince ourselves that we have to check our emails now, or we have to keep on working to just finish this or that, and somehow we get wrapped up in doing, desiring and understanding cognitively that we need to take care of ourselves too, but somehow never getting there.
Today though, I am thinking about my life before COVID. (Aren't we all? Isn't it every conversation topic, even when it isn't?). I would like to think that something so big, something that throws out the whole world, doesn't just happen without having something to show us, something about our lives, the way we live, and what we prioritise. As much as I like to think that, all around me is the evidence of people scrambling to get back to the level of safety (as in comfort zone) pre-COVID, many without changing or learning or observing or being aware of anything. Survival-mode. Our sense of lack, that there isn't enough for everyone, is the root of so many of our problems. In addition to our resistance to change. We will fight tooth and nail to keep what is, even if what is isn't really working out.
The middle class way of life is perhaps the greatest showcase for this sense of lack: we are so scared of being left behind, of our kids missing out on the one great opportunity that could be their talent, of having less than the Jones's, of being thought of as mediocre (middle-class). We're not fighting to survive every day, but we are also not part of The Elite. We want more, and once we have more, we need more in order to protect the more that we just got. And every more is just an invitation to another more. Because if we don't have more, how do we keep ourselves safe?; how do we ensure our future?; how do we ensure that of our kids?
And we forget so many things, but mostly the things that speak to us and remind us that we are, essentially, safe. We forget to listen and feel, because we are always afraid, and running around trying to alleviate that fear.
My pre-COVID life was filled to the brim. Not necessarily out of fear, but because there were things I needed to keep safe, and a purpose that needed to be built, and kids that had to do x, y, and z in order to have a chance in this world. A chance to do what exactly? To become a part of the race that binds them and slowly kills them? To take them away from the ones they love and the life they are actually intent on building for most of their waking hours?
Like all things that I talk about, there is always a balance to things. There are people who love their careers and there is benefit that comes out of trying new things and finding out what you like. Not getting any chances or education or idea of what you are good at is just as bad as over working yourself.
But we're not talking about balance right now.
We're talking about one side of the spectrum.
In the midst of COVID, everything that I was fighting so hard to build was broken down, and everything that my kids were doing was cancelled. Our slate was cleaned. We had such a desperate need for that. We released a breath that we didn't even realise we were holding until we did.
There was a shrug (not a voluntary one but nonetheless) and the world got dropped.
Would it surprise you to know that we we're ok? Probably not, because everyone essentially was.
Would it surprise you that we are actually better off? Perhaps. Everyone has been so panicky about what has been lost, that no one has really paid attention to what has been gained.
The biggest thing I learned was to not take this gift for granted. We have been looking at our life, looking at what we intended to build, and making use of the time that has been given to us to both heal what was broken, and build what was envisioned.
It is so much simpler than before, and we have been asking ourselves the really hard questions, like what we really need, what we really want, and what benefit anything truly adds when we add it to our lives. And we have become much better at setting boundaries and canceling anything that doesn't fit comfortably; we've become better at taking care of the things that really matter to us, which is ourselves, our relationships, and the experiences we share.
This has not been the journey for everyone, although some people made it harder than it needed to be. For us, we have shuffled and shifted, and come out the other side with a better understanding of ourselves, what works, and how to add one brick at a time.