2020 has been an obstacle course of a year. The first hurdle was a pandemic – a test of staying home, of singing “Happy Birthday” to the sink. Just as we got the hang of breathing under masks, wildfires tore through our path and racial violence and the urgency of change stared us down. Finally, a fraught election tripped us up again.
Now, it seems, the challenge we face is that of healing.
Healing. From sicknesses literal and institutional. From divisions in our communities, in our government, in our conception of truth. There are so many wounds. How can we approach them while we remain alone – in a society locked down and more lonely than ever?
Isolation from communities, especially in times of hardship, is unnatural and unhealthy. But I think this pain may be teaching me something about healing.
I struggle with depression. Last week, it hit me out of nowhere. I was in Palm Springs, CA, arguably the most paradise-like place on earth, and it waltzed right in. I woke up on Wednesday morning in a cushy bed on a bright blue day, and I felt terrible. You can’t be like this right now, I told myself. I was with family (at a distance) in a stunningly beautiful place and, on top of that, had two papers due the following week, neither of which I had started. This can’t be you, I thought. I spent Wednesday working against what I knew was true, clinging to the way I was supposed to be.
But by the time I got back home to LA on Wednesday night, my depression had made known that it was, indeed, how I was supposed to be. Whether I liked it or not. I woke up Thursday morning cloudy, numb, immobile. I couldn’t sit up at my desk, couldn't think about my Lit. Theory paper, couldn’t look at my email inbox. I called my mom and mustered the words to ask her what to do.
“Nothing,” she said. “Do...nothing.”
This idea was new and welcome. I’m used to – as we all are – powering through. At my mom’s words, I cried with relief. What if I could actually do nothing? What if I could just heal?
So that’s what I did. All of Thursday, I laid on the couch. I looked at the ceiling. I lit a candle. I colored a picture. I didn’t write my paper and I didn’t email anyone back and I didn’t even sit up.
The next morning, I felt better. Not a hundred percent, but better. But even better than feeling better was the hunch that I was learning how to heal. I was learning to shut off the voice that told me I was fine, I could keep going, and listen instead to the one that said, Whatever you are, it’s okay.
Maybe to heal, I thought, we have to stop powering through. We have to stop being on the offensive or on the defensive. Maybe we have to stop maintaining how things are “supposed to be,” and consider whether something else might work better.
My students just finished their first paper of our 10th Grade English class. It was based on a play by Anna Deavere Smith called Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, a collection of monologues taken from interviews following the Rodney King protests – individual perspectives on a collective event. The paper asked, “What does Twilight reveal about the relationship between the individual and the collective?”
I loved reading all my students’ ideas about how unique people interact with different groups, but one idea stood out to me in particular. “The human collective has been able to grow because of the contributions of individuals,” one of my student’s wrote, “Individuals didn’t stay still and accept what they had, they thought of new ways to improve upon themselves.”
Certainly, healing requires coming together, leaning on each other, working in tandem. But I’m wondering if, in order to do that, we first need to think of newer, more honest ways to be ourselves. Maybe, in order to heal as a collective, we first need to heal alone.