A woman looking toward the sky with her eyes closed and hair blowing in the wind

My camera roll from a year ago holds souvenirs from another March, a meaningful time in my college home in early spring. Evidence of concerts, weekend day trips and a closeness with friends are tucked away in a treasure box from a former reality that feels distant and almost otherworldly now. 

We all have photos and memories from before the world went quiet with stay-at-home orders last spring. It can be easy to reminisce on the luxuries and normalities of that pre-COVID world without social distancing, masks and canceled plans. 

Yet, as I reflect on the past year of collective loss, grief and uncertainty during the pandemic, I recognize that this has been a transformational time of growth and identity-building. I am determined to walk toward the hope that lies ahead with these lessons tucked in my back pocket.

I am determined to walk toward the hope that lies ahead with these lessons tucked in my back pocket.

The value of home

With spring and fall semester classes moved online and a summer abroad canceled, I found my 21-year-old self back at my childhood address sharing a dinner table with my family. I grieved the loss of the homes that I had anticipated sharing with different people and places in 2020. In addition to this, stay-at-home orders turned the physical nature of home into a place of necessity rather than choice. 

These shifting realities challenged me to reframe the multi-dimensional idea of home as a gift. No matter where our feet are, we have the chance to dig into the rich meaning of that space. The pandemic showed me that home is more than a location or an address but more dependent on the people who walk alongside you. 

No matter where our feet are, we have the chance to dig into the rich meaning of that space.

Living at home reminded me that I have an identity as a daughter and sister who is truly known and loved. While my proximity to my college friends was limited, I was continually reminded that belonging can be found even when friends are spread across the country. The people who feel most like home in my life are constants no matter where my feet are located. 

The value of simplicity

When the hustle of the everyday college lifestyle was put on hold, we had time to return to simplicity. In doing so, I was reminded that small joys are the meaningful building blocks of life. What I once might have overlooked as simple or mundane before the pandemic—a walk around the block, homework on the back porch or a full family dinner table—became the most vivid parts of my year. 

It’s silly because we have access to these little things every day. Too often we claim that we are too “busy” to make time for them. What would it look like to focus on the basics in the present moment, rather than always reaching for the next big thing? 

Simple joys stood out as the biggest blessings in the midst of the pandemic. I want to hold onto the habits of playing cards, taking long walks and writing letters even as the world speeds up again. If we slow down long enough to appreciate them, the little things welcome us into the subtle beauty of simplicity.

If we slow down long enough to appreciate them, the little things welcome us into the subtle beauty of simplicity.

The value of community and conversation

We were not made to walk through life alone. During the days of quarantine, the slowness of our daily routines required us to sit with the quiet reality of isolation. In the silence and distance from friends, I had to relearn what it means to live in community. 

The pandemic challenged our need for togetherness, but it failed to fully strip us of this gift. My friends’ texts, calls and FaceTimes reminded me of the importance of having a home team. Virtual conversations, coffee dates and movie nights reinstated elements of belonging that I missed. Conversations of greater depth continued when I took the advice of those closest to me and connected with a therapist. In the turbulence of the pandemic, those conversations opened the door to a release of anxieties and untruths I had been holding onto. 

The absence of busyness during the pandemic provided space for creative outlets and healing heart-to-heart conversations with my community. The closeness we crave with others could not be fully stripped by a virus.  

The closeness we crave with others could not be fully stripped by a virus.  

Last week, I lay on a picnic blanket with a friend under the early spring sun, which was therapeutic in its own way. We considered all that had changed in the past year to lead us back to this spot on our college campus lawn. This moment seemed to culminate all that I had learned: home can be found in a friendship; joy can be found in simplicity; and belonging can be found in conversation. I know I value little things like this more so now than I would have before the pandemic.

This season has changed all of us. May we hold onto the lessons learned during the pandemic and move forward with radical hope and gratitude for home, simplicity and community.

Is there anything that you hold in higher esteem or with more appreciation after the pandemic? How have you grown or changed in the last year?

Image via Manuela Iodice, Darling Issue No. 19

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