Many people have written about the lessons we can learn from 2020, and the opportunities this strange and tumultuous year has offered us. We just need to make the most of it and stick together, right?
I definitely agree, but I think that while many articles and podcasts provide good tips, prescriptive advice and bumper sticker slogans can only get us so far. No year and no situation is “one size fits all.”
So I’m not going to give you 10 ways to make it through the last days of 2020, or 5 things you must do during quarantine, or anything else like that.
What I am going to do is share a few thoughts from one of my recent morning walks. I found this consideration interesting to ponder and I hope it’s helpful for you as we do, indeed, navigate this season together.
It started six years ago
Just over six years ago, I was a new college graduate trying to find a place to live. I didn’t have family in town, the friends at the top of my roommate list were married, moved, or already had roommates, and everyone I asked at church, alumni groups, and beyond didn’t know any good roommate prospects.
So I wasn’t sure what to do. One day, as I shared my predicament with a family from church, they said, “You can stay in our attic.” I thought they were joking because I didn’t know people could live in attics. So I laughed. They kept a straight face and said they were serious. So I pulled the ladder down from the ceiling and climbed up to scope out the attic.
Both the husband and wife have an impressive knack for home improvement and interior design, and the husband is an extraordinary carpenter by trade. So the attic was not what I pictured. It had a nice wood floor, two beds built into the wall, a desk and shelves, and a little sky light. It was spacious and comfortable.
The attic had been their kids’ playroom when they were little, so I saw stuffed animals and toy cars sitting in a corner, sports trophies on the desk, and one of those kid rugs with maps and roads that children drive their Hot Wheels on. The ceiling was light green with big flowers and ladybugs painted all over. There may have been some leftover glow-in-the-dark plastic stars.
It was quaint. It felt safe. It was an adventure.
So I said, “Well, thank you. I’m in. I’ll probably just stay a week or two.”
They smiled and knowingly said, “It’s OK if you’re here longer than that.”
Peeling back the layers
Have you ever wanted to open up, but didn’t know how to? That’s something I struggled with for a long time. I wanted to be close to people, but I either pushed them away or didn’t let them close enough to even get pushed away.
I was scared of being hurt or rejected. Even more, I was scared of losing independence. I really (like, really) value independence. And for much of my early adulthood, I overvalued independence so much that I took it to the extreme and thought if I ever needed anyone for anything, I was a failure or weakling.
Living with this family turned out to not be one week, or even two, but actually a 25-month experience. And I learned from every one of those months. We all learned together.
What do you think about when you picture an attic? It’s the place in your house that you don’t show off. You don’t invite guests up there. You might not even remember what you keep in it. An attic is usually used to store things you don’t have space for in your daily life, but you don’t necessarily want to get rid of. Maybe Christmas decorations. Maybe old heirlooms or photo albums. Maybe things you’d rather forget about but you can’t let go, or things that might come in handy someday, so you hang onto them just in case.
My experience of living with a family that was not my own tapped into the metaphorical attic of my heart. We all have things we have to work through as we become adults, and after that, we’re always growing and maturing for the rest of our lives.
One thing I had to work through was an intense fear of being a burden or overwhelming people. I thought if I could just be self-sufficient, I would never bother anyone. So when all my best efforts of diligently researching, networking, and planning for options to move out of the attic and give this family their home back were met each time with dead ends, I felt defeated.
One morning I walked into the kitchen and saw a sticky note on the cabinet near the coffee maker: “Selah, glad you’re here.” After several months, there was a new one: “Selah, glad you’re still here.”
Small gestures like that started letting me enter into my own “attic” to see what was there. It really felt like layers of onions, coming off one by one, month by month.
And step by step, cobweb by metaphorical cobweb, I started to lean into the beauty of interdependence. We ate dinner together. I bought milk when I saw the family carton running low. They had already bought more by the time I came home, proud of my surprise gallon of milk. Then we had to carefully maneuver the rest of the refrigerated items to fit all the excess milk. We laughed about things like that. I called them when my car battery died. They called me when their kids needed a ride to school.
They taught me some cooking basics (always have olive oil, half and half, and pasta on hand = Italian pro tip). They taught me about sports, and the difference between a bike helmet and a baseball helmet (apparently it’s obvious to everyone but me). I introduced them to personality tests like StrengthsFinder. We debriefed our work and school experiences, discussed current events, made a ton of jokes about ourselves and each other, and watched The Office and Psych.
This feels familiar
I was thinking recently about how this strange year of the COVID-19 pandemic and so much more feels somewhat familiar. There’s certainly lots of new in this year, but the feeling that’s familiar is that I’m not where I expected to be.
None of us are.
The only two things that happened this year that I actually planned for going into the year, were two conferences I attended early in 2020 before the pandemic hit. Everything else that happened in my life this year was not planned.
In the same way, after college, I had never intended to live in an attic for over two years. But even though there were hard things about living in an attic, I came out better than when I entered.
Similarly, there have been countless beautiful moments, friendships, growing and healing experiences, and opportunities to find new hobbies and learn about myself that came throughout this pandemic.
In the midst of navigating the serious nature of so much going on, I am also thinking about the idea that this season is another “attic” — a hidden place where you only go out of necessity and come out further in touch with your true self and with new ways of living that may better fit you than your old ways.
None of us live in attics because they were our first choice. But there are seasons when they’re the best choice for our overall well-being and future selves, and they can provide much more growth than any plan that went our way could have.
So I’m not here to tell you what you should get out of 2020. That’s not my business. For starters, I’m still figuring out what I’ve gotten out of it! But I can tell you that I’ve gained a lot of valuable growth this year. There is so much beautiful work that God has been doing in my heart, that I don’t believe I would have been as open to, had this year gone the way I had planned.
I know this is not everyone’s experience and I do not want to downplay the harsh realities of this year. But I hope that sharing my story is encouraging in the midst of this crazy time we’re living in.
How are you doing? If you would like to share what you’re learning, experiencing, or thinking about these days, drop a comment or send me a message on my Contact page. I’d love to hear from you!