What a Year it’s Been!
Hard to believe, but what has felt like the longest year has passed since the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 disease came into our lives and turned our world upside-down. We’ve faced so much – together but also alone: the unknown, fear, panic, confusion, isolation, sickness, lingering symptoms, deaths of loved ones. More than half a million people have died – and that’s just in the U.S. Those lost were individuals – someone’s child, sibling, parent, spouse, grandparent, friend. The total loss is too much to really comprehend.
It’s also been a huge struggle and so much work to address job, business, school, and social losses and changes. And these are just a few of the impacts due to the virus. The years of built-up social and racial inequities have been laid bare for all to see. Add the heated, divisive rhetoric and politics. Top it off with the chaotic destructive attack on our nation’s Capitol in early January and its aftermath.
“What a Year It’s Been” feels like such an understatement. We’ve been forced to individually and collectively witness, experience, endure. How do we process all of this and re-create a better world?
A “Buggie” Dream Metaphor to Explore
Sometime late last summer, I awoke from an unusual dream…
Once upon a dreamscape… I am at my children’s elementary school, talking with an old friend in a work room. My friend’s child started playing on the custodian’s computer. Before long, I begin to see flies, bees, wasps, moths, mosquitos, and all sort of other insects flying and multi-sized bugs crawling around. At first there were just a few. But then there are more, and more, and more! It is so odd, I know something is not quite right. I walk through the building and find the custodian. As I explained what’s been happening, the custodian knows exactly what to do to fix it. We walked into the work room and the custodian makes a few keystrokes at the computer. Immediately, the bugs turn around and start flying and crawling towards the computer and into the screen. As it turns out, my friend’s child had accidentally opened up the portal and let all of these bugs out. I am amazed at how easy it is to put those insects back into the virtual world where they belonged. I wake up.
As I considered this dream, I was reminded of Pandora’s Box, an ancient story with which I was only vaguely familiar.
Pandora and the Gift Box
As it goes, in the Greek myth, Pandora was the first woman created and the gods gave her many amazing gifts. These included intelligence, curiosity, beauty, compassion, and many more wonderful attributes. But Zeus’ gift, which was the last one to be given, was a small box. It had chains and a lock around it. When giving the box to Pandora, Zeus instructed her to never open the box.
At first, this wasn’t a problem for Pandora. She had so many other things to explore around her. But as the time passed, she began thinking about the box. At first these thoughts came now and then. But later on, these thoughts grew stronger and more frequent. Pandora wondered what could possibly be in the box? Why wouldn’t Zeus want her to see it? These occasional thoughts became an obsession gnawing at her. Overall, what a crazy-making gift! Perhaps if she just peeked once, she would be able to relieve her great curiosity and go on with life as usual.
The harder she tried to resist, the more she thought about what might be in the box. At long last, Pandora just couldn’t focus on anything else, so she decided to just go ahead and open the box! And what did she find? All thing disastrous, disgusting, ugly, evil, deadly pushed and screamed their way out. Such horrors she could have never imagined. She was shocked and stunned.
After seeing these awful things emerge, Pandora tried with all her might to gather them all up to put back into the box. She tried and tried and tried. But it was too late. Pandora was struck with panic, grief, fear, regret, remorse. How can this grave mistake ever be repaired? Could she ever be forgiven? Could she ever forgive herself?
Between her wailing sobs, she heard one more sound from inside the box. As she crept near and took a closer look into the box, “hope” came pouring out to her, and into the world. In all of her darkness and despair, hope’s light was the one last gift to get her through.
COVID as a Pandora’s Box Metaphor
Just as Pandora faced a different world after she opened the box, we have all also been forced to face a new world due to the virus. Have we taken the time to process these losses?
Many people process life-changing events by recognizing and learning about the stages of grief described in the pioneering work of Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. These stages of Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance typical swirl through us as we grieve our losses. Understanding these stages can also be helpful while experiencing life-altering illnesses, broken relationships, and losses of all kinds. And as we come through the other side, with hope we can re-invent ourselves in our “new normal”.
I’m also reminded that Mr. Rogers said that when he was little and would see horrible news stories, his mom always said to look for the helpers. Then you’ll know that there’s hope. Although COVID has taken so much from us, countless people have also pitched in to help in so many ways. Their generosity, compassion, and hard work has given us so much hope that we can make it through and reinvent ourselves, our families, communities, and beyond.
And a friend just sent me this thoughtful reflection on hope, titled: Disturbing the Peace, from a series of interviews in 1985-86 conducted by the The Vaclav Havel Library Foundation with Czech journal Karel Hvížd’ala.
About Pandora’s Box of Hope
It’s been a year of many laments, many passionate expressions of grief or sorrow. I’ve intentionally taken a year to make this art as a way to process the emotions and feelings from everything lost due to COVID. Although no one can put the darkness of the virus back “into its locked box”, I’ve discovered hope for our future demonstrated by the many acts of care, compassion, kindness, hard work, and love that I’ve witnessed.
This encaustic-covered box has many layers of colorful paper and pastel colored wax on the outside, with a black velvet lining inside. Black onyx bead chains make up the ties broken open. A small scroll penned with “Pandora’s Lament,” an original imagined poem, partners with a stone engraved with “HOPE.”
Oh, no! What have I done? What is this horror I’ve unleashed? I can’t bear to look at it. It is so awful, dreadful, horrible! Stupid, pitiful me. I have no tears left.
I thought I was so smart. I thought I was so noble. I thought I knew the world, but I was so naive! I didn’t now such evil could even exist.
I was so, so very wrong. I regret my actions. I am so ashamed. I am so very, very sorry. How can I ever repair this? I can only hope to be forgiven some day.
All I have left is hope.
The box is 5″ wide X 6″ tall X 5″ deep.