Wednesday 22 April 2020

"Remember When?" - Building Shared Experience in Unprecedented Times

We are going through the pandemic together.
— Fran Houston

In our recent article for Diane Atwood’s award-winning blog Catching Health, Fran and I shared how the coronavirus lockdown is affecting our 3,000 mile friendship. The title we chose — Stay Home, Stay Safe, Stay Connected — highlights our commitment to staying in touch with each other, other friends and loved ones.

Fran: Marty and I meet every day on Skype to hang out and process what is going on in the world and relax watching movies together. I talk with other friends on the phone.

Martin: Connection is also really important to me. I can’t meet friends in person but I’m keeping in touch with as many as possible.

I have friends I talk or chat to every day, coronavirus or not. But since the lockdown I’ve also been reaching out to folk I contact less frequently, or who I’ve not heard from in a while. Fran is doing the same. I’m sure it’s true for most of us. I was thinking about this the other day. It occurred to me that we’re doing more than checking to see people are okay. We’re supporting each other, yes. But even more than that, we’re sharing our experiences in what truly are unprecedented times.

Those experiences are different. Some are undeniably harder than others, but all are valid. Maybe you’re a key worker on the front line or support someone who is. Maybe you’re working because you have no choice, are furloughed, or have been laid off. Maybe you’re in quarantine; caring for loved ones; volunteering time, energy or resources; or simply following the imperative to stay home. However this pandemic is affecting you, your experience is unique and your contribution matters. You matter.

We are living through times none of us anticipated or prepared for. We didn’t choose to be here but are here nonetheless. There is no road map to guide us safely to the other side, no book of instructions, no guru with all the answers. We are navigating as we go, discovering what works for us and what doesn’t. The pandemic has not only changed our circumstances, it is changing our lives, our relationships, our very selves. Some of the changes are subtle; many are more fundamental; others devastating, even brutal. The full impact may not become clear for years, but it’s certain none of us will emerge unchallenged or unscarred.

The people we hold close now will forever be part of our coronavirus experience. We will turn to them in months and years to come for comfort and to validate what it meant to live through these times. “Remember when?” will help us make sense of it all. That is something powerful and profound, and worth preparing for.

Here are a few suggestions to help build shared experiences that will last far longer than the pandemic.

1. Who are your people? Who is there for you and with you through all of this? Who are you laughing with, crying with, listening to, singing to, watching movies with? Who’s there for you and allows you to be there for them? Family, colleagues, friends new and old, neighbours, or former strangers, these are your people.

2. What memories are you building? Good or bad, these days are part of our lives, our individual, shared, and collective memory. We cannot un-live this, as much as we might want to. Much of it will be hard to look back on, especially if we’ve lost loved ones, jobs, money, education, or opportunities. Those who have accompanied us will be those we need in times to come. What stories have you listened to and told? What laughter have you shared? What tears have you shed together?

3. What are you learning? What are you discovering about yourself, your family and friends, and how the world works? Maybe there are things — or people — you took for granted, or things you thought important which don’t seem so vital now.

4. How will you remember? You might think there’s no way you’ll forget what you’re living through right now, but memory doesn’t always work the way we’d like it to. Build shared experiences you’ll cherish in years to come. Photos are an obvious starting point, but be creative. Screenshot fun times you’re having with friends on Skype or Zoom (with their permission, of course). Share recipes and swap photos of the results! Send someone a video message. If you’re able to, mail a greetings card or letter, a small gift, or self-care package; it will be something tangible for them to treasure.

5. Not everything needs to be shared. Some things will be too personal to share, even with those you trust and are closest to. Consider starting a journal or mood diary, or write a letter to yourself in the future. Be as honest as you need to be. This is your life. These are your thoughts and feelings.

There will be tears and pain when we look back on the pandemic of 2020. But there will also be joy and laughter, and the comfort that comes from surviving dark times in good company.


Photo credit: Edwin Hooper at Unsplash


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