Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of one of the worst days of my life. I know too many others can say the same thing.
My own Friday the 13th of March 2020 went like this.
I went to work as a substitute teacher at my local high school, which ranks in the bottom ten percent of the state academically. I had subbed a half day the day before at the elementary school and was definitely tired. Now, the 13th was my first full day in a classroom since I left teaching in 2009.
The office staff mistook me for a student teacher and asked me for paperwork I knew nothing about and had me waiting until I realized they weren’t paying attention when I said I was there to substitute teach. They’d made assumptions based on my appearance (I don’t look my age) rather than listening to my words.
Finally, I was sent to a classroom, but not the class I’d signed up to sub for. I was there for one chaotic class period of simply babysitting bored kids who were eager to test my limits. Then I was pulled out of that room and stationed in the art room. There was zero lesson plan. They took away all their Chromebooks because they wanted to make sure they all worked in case the schools closed to in-person learning (which hadn’t even become a phrase yet). I had coloring pages to give them. These high school kids fought over crayons, threw trash everywhere, and were shoving around furniture. Kids from other classes wandered in to hang out. I knew no one’s names and had no idea who was supposed to be there and who wasn’t. The best goal I could have was to make sure no one died. No one died.
Two days prior, I did my last speaking gig. Like, ever, that I knew of. Everything else I had scheduled canceled. Each of the pending deals I was hoping to close became a firm “no.” My main clients were colleges and they were all shutting down.
And that Friday the 13th, I think just an hour after I made it home from that horrid day at the high school, Pennsylvania’s governor announced that all public schools were closing down.
I’d made enough money in my day and a half of subbing to pay for the background checks and clearances and tuberculosis test I had to get.
I had some savings, but not enough to cover me for the five months until — I thought — schools would be opening back up after summer. In case you’re wondering, yes, amidst the panic I also felt like an absolute failure.
I made it, though. In the initial devastation, people fed me. How simple yet powerful it is to be fed. Friends, family, mere acquaintances cooked for me, brought by leftovers, filled my car with groceries, palmed me cash, dropped off a birthday cake for my 40th birthday.
Then a friend of a friend gave me a job as a receptionist, and I did that hustle for 11 months while I created virtual speaking programs and colleges started to say “yes” again and corporations started emailing me asking me to do programs for them, and now, a year later, I’m definitely OK. And now, a year later, there are vaccines and schools are opening and the world is starting to heal after so much loss and pain.
Yesterday, on the anniversary of my last-ever (for now) in-person speaking gig, I did an empowerment program for a college to celebrate Women’s History Month. In this program, we made little booklets together, with all kinds of empowering things in them. On was an exercise I like to do to celebrate our ability to thrive in adversity. On the left page, we list challenges we face. One the right, we list what we’ve gained from those adversities. Here’s what mine looked like:
As I presented, I thought about this anniversary and thought it would be a fine time to write out what I’ve gained from my own year through COVID, so here we go….
- made awesome new forever friends from the job
- proved to myself how much I am able to handle when I have to
- refilled my savings by working two jobs
- collected many generosities to pay forward, and have enjoyed starting to do so
- built an awesome LEGO collection … and prompted a couple friends to do the same
- realized what I absolutely want to do with the time I’ve gotten back after leaving the job (WRITE MORE BOOKS!!!)
- gained a gratitude more invigorated than ever before
- got into gardening (read how the pandemic started *that* here … it only continued to grow!)
- had so many great adventures exploring back roads, state parks, wineries, roadside food joints, and more with my beloved dog, and will have many more!
- lived yet another instance of God reminding me that everything’s going to be OK, and so next time it’ll be easier to remember on my own
- learned some great tips about health and wellness from the job
- got lots of ideas for articles and teaching that I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise
- spoke to people all over the world because virtual is a thing now — even made a friend in England whom I have Zoom wine nights with
- as I type this, I’m listening to a favorite musician from the small town in Ireland I visited in 2012, whom I hadn’t heard sing since 2012 … until he started his pandemic-forced Facebook live “shows”
I know there’s more, and will be more, but I’ll stop there for now.
I know it’s been an awful year, but what within that have you gained?