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By Priscilla Joel
It’s kind of wild how much we learn in such a short period of time. A “short period” could mean ten minutes, or it could mean ten years. My mom recently found some old pictures of me at space camp from when I was about ten years old. I am standing in the elementary school lawn, beaming, while holding up the model rocket I had just launched. I remember watching the little foot-long cardboard rocket launch up into the air, and slowly float down with the bright yellow parachute as I crossed my fingers, hoping the wind wouldn’t get it stuck in the trees. I worked really hard to assemble the rocket myself, but I didn’t really know how the rocket worked, how it shot out the parachute out or even how it launched off into the sky so fast. And what I definitely didn’t know, was that less than ten years later, I’d be heading to Iowa State to learn just how rockets work.
This past week, as I was taking a quiz on rocket propulsion systems, my mind began wandering as I thought about all the things we have learned since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. When the pandemic first hit, many of us were intrigued by this new virus, and perhaps a little fearful. Our social lives were abruptly interrupted and life began to look very different. We all wondered how this situation would play out. But as the weeks and months went on, and we continued to live in isolation from the outside world and from each other, our own mental, and perhaps even physical health, had begun to take some hits.
The quickly spreading pandemic was completely outside of our control and the extended period of self-isolation may have created anxiety and depression for many of us. We, as a global community, have endured quite a bit in the past year. The year of the pandemic is a year many of us may prefer to forget. It was difficult, demanding and exhausting. It constrained many of us in more ways than one and threated the safety of our loved ones and ourselves, without a light at the end of the tunnel for so long. But I also began wondering about how much we all have learned. We have learned about ourselves, each other, our country and our world. We have learned that life can change overnight. We have learned to celebrate the people in our life that we were used to seeing every day. We have also learned that we are and can be resourceful. Many churches quickly transitioned to offering virtual worship, and many of us transitioned to having virtual meet-ups, meetings and conversations.
But I’d like to invite you all to join me in holding on to the memory of this past year, or rather, holding on to all the things we learned in the past year. Because if you’re anything like me, 2020 was a wakeup call. The pandemic stripped away our outer shell and forced us to witness many of the shortcomings of ourselves and our society. While we may have always been aware of many of these shortcomings such as wealth inequality, modern poverty and racial discrimination, the pandemic put us in a place that impelled us to address and educate ourselves on these issues.
And maybe this past year has been a wakeup call to our own personal lives as well. What we like about ourselves, what we’d like to improve, what we need to stay healthy and function effectively. I have learned much in the past year of social isolation, and now as the community is slowly beginning to safely open back up, it is time to decide what we are going to do with what we learned. Whether it’s jumping in to fighting for a social justice issue or simply making an effort to save time for self-care, we all have learned a thing or two. As writer John Wyndham once said, “Knowledge is simply a kind of fuel; it needs the motor of understanding to convert it into power.”
We have our fuel, and now it’s time to launch.