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A Post-Pandemic Proposal: Crossing the Threshold of Grief & Growth

I don’t exactly remember when I first heard about the virus in 2019. But I know when I first gave it more than a passing thought: in January 2020, as my grandmother, Betty, lay dying. The nurses said she had the flu, but that it looked different, worse, somehow. Maybe she had this new thing. I dismissed the idea – how would a virus halfway around the world get over here? Whether it was the “new thing” or not, it was Betty’s time.

road through a valley toward the horizon passing a stone marker - Killarney National Park

A month later we were at her memorial. There were murmurs about the virus, vague feelings of trepidation. Should we be getting ready for something? The crisis engulfing China, arriving here… it was still an idea beyond belief.


A month after that I was watching the Governor’s press conference with my few coworkers left in the building. It’s here. Within the hour we were working from home, indefinitely. Cases climbed. Doomscrolling, Zoom-fatigue, stress, fear, and isolation became our parallel afflictions. I prayed for my loved ones’ protection.


Three months later, in June 2020, the virus killed my friend, Marny. She’d been in the hospital for months fighting it as she recovered from surgery. She was 31. I grieved alone, crying in my car. I kept praying.


A year later, I finally began to see the kids that lived in our apartment building again. After school one day, there they were, suddenly having a water balloon fight on the lawn. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d heard such laughter, filling the air, echoing down the street. Soon the rest of us tenants found ourselves out on our stoops, laughing along with them. Since then, we’ve all been outside more, laughing more.


That’s how the healing began for me, which, as healing usually is, has been a two-steps-forward, one-step-back kind of process. And so two-and-a half long years since the pandemic began, I’m still praying.


A THRESHOLD OF GRIEF & GROWTH

road through a tunnel of overhanging trees with opening at the end - Dark Hedges, Northern Ireland

We’ve all lost someone or something significant in the last two-and-a-half years. We’ve lost presence with family, friends, community, and important events – including proper goodbyes. We’ve lost childhood joy, teenage romanticism, the vitality that should come with adulthood, the deep belonging that should come with elderhood. Maybe we’ve even lost a sense of purpose or meaning, some sanity, faith, or hope.


Maybe we’ve gained things too. A little more time or closeness to home. New interests, hobbies, dreams. More motivation to heal what’s sick and fix what’s broken in our world. Perspective on what really matters. I know the pandemic held these new openings for growth for me too, alongside the grief: I joined in the Great Resignation so I could lend spiritual guidance for people during this tough time.


As we approach post-pandemic life, what do we do with all our new grief and growth? Do we simply shrug and carry on haphazardly, dragging the unabsorbed weight of it all into the unknown future?


Or do we acknowledge what we’ve experienced and what lies ahead? Do we give it sacred space to be sorted and felt and digested? Do we give it the chance to change us, to carry us forward?


Given everything we’ve been through, I believe that to truly transition out of the pandemic, we need to honor our experience of it.

Earlier this year, as we crossed the milestone of two years since the pandemic hit the U.S, I began wondering – what might this transition look like? In the next two sections of this blog post you’ll find my twofold response:

Crossing the Threshold – Part 1: Workshop and Processing Practices
Crossing the Threshold – Part 2: Community Festivals

But first, some caveats: Like influenza, COVID-19 may never technically, medically be over. But the pandemic as we’ve known it so far – the two-and-a-half year era dominated by the coronavirus – is, or is at least winding down. That is, at least for us in the high-income-world; we still have a duty to aid other nations and communities in reaching recovery. Also, we’ve experienced domestic and international upheavals in this era that we may associate inextricably with COVID. Not to mention, we’re all sure to be coping with the aftermath of the pandemic for years to come.


But none of these facts diminish the truth that, here and now, in our corner of the world, we still need to mark this shift to post-pandemic life with the respect it deserves:

  • As we do with other natural disasters, we need to proclaim the acute period of catastrophe to be over. Only then can we begin comprehensive, mutual recovery. And we must.

  • We’ve been in a state not dissimilar to war, against the virus and even each other. We need to officially declare peace and begin rebuilding in earnest.

  • With so many restrictions, it’s like we’ve also been in a kind of confinement. We need to fully embrace new freedom, and the rights and responsibilities that entails.

in the depths of a cave, an opening in the ceiling with light streaming in - Ape Cave, Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

On this last point, people are already speculating that in the best case scenario, we may be in for a new, post-pandemic “Roaring 2020s”: a few years of compensatory partying. Let’s not forget though that the namesake Roaring 1920s also coincided with what’s called the Lost Generation: millions stranded in grief and rootlessness after the traumas of WWI, the influenza pandemic, and economic turmoil, all leaving people susceptible to the lure of a burgeoning fascism.


This is a cautionary tale. We might now want to simply wash our hands of the pandemic era, exhausted by the idea of belaboring the subject another day longer. But like with any other health issue, if we don’t tend to it properly from the onset, it will only fester. If we don’t do the up-front hard work of processing what’s happened, we’re at risk of sliding into drawn-out depression, animosity, and escapism.


We cannot afford this, especially given the work we have ahead: standing with the rest of the world still under threat, facing the rest of our many 21st-century predicaments, and alleviating COVID’s ongoing legacy. And to reemphasize an earlier point, we’re all likely to buckle under the weight of these tasks, unless we release some of the weight of the immediate crisis still dragging us down.


We can mitigate ongoing trauma for ourselves by creating a ceremonial context to process our pain and set our sights on new horizons. This is the ancient wisdom of funerals, memorials, and mourning periods. It’s the ancient wisdom of rites of passage, which guide the transition from one season of life to another. And it can help us here and now.


CROSSING THE THRESHOLD – PART 1:

WORKSHOP & PROCESSING PRACTICES

stone bridge facing a waterfall in the forest - Snowdonia National Park, UK

Whether in a pandemic or not, this grief and growth experience is messy. It follows no rules or order, and loops back on itself as new iterations of reckoning and reconciliation arise. Still, we can recognize a few distinct touchstones we encounter – maybe many times – on the winding journey, at the very least:

  • Shock as we face our new reality, and the need to have the situation validated by others

  • Anger and/or conflictedness, and the need to express these

  • Sorrow, and the need to express it

  • The need for hope and gratitude for what we’ve learned, and for what’s supporting us as we move forward

These four themes above frame the four sessions of the Post-Pandemic Workshop and processing practices I've assembled:

These resources are intended for people in all kinds of contexts: families, schools, neighborhoods, church and faith communities, therapeutic and spiritual settings, youth groups, senior centers, clubs, associations, group counseling, recovery, workplaces, unions, nonprofits, etc. Any trusted leader or team in any context can act as facilitator(s) for the workshop or practices, if not relying on InVocation for facilitation. The number and skill of facilitators should scale with number of participants, and novices should be able to handle a ratio of 10:1.

wooden bridge over rapids, crossing to a wild mountain vista beyond - Snowdon

The sequence of sessions aligns with the format of similar ceremonial contexts, such as memorials and rites of passage. These are intended to help us “complete the motion/cycle,” so our bodies, hearts, minds, and Souls can exit overwhelm and enter a more settled, contemplative state, moving us from lingering trauma into healing. Still, participants can proceed in whatever sequence best fits their needs.


None of this talk of healing means there won’t be confrontation with pain throughout the sessions – there will be. True healing requires us to feel, express, and be witnessed in our difficult emotions. One goal of these resources is to create a sacred context where that can happen.


This has limits however. In the wake of the pandemic, the weight of grief present for each individual may be greater than what any one workshop or set of modules can hold. Thus, the other, twin goal of the sessions is to equip participants with resources to keep working with pain and transformation going forward. Success in both goals is measured subjectively: whether participants feel they’ve made progress in the themes of the sessions – holding our stories, ending isolation, etc.


In other words, these are not contexts for throwing open the floodgates. These are contexts for getting to know the waters of grief as they seep into the cracks in our hearts, easing the pressure at a pace that allows for reflection, and setting the stage for an ongoing process of release. They are not an end-all-be-all. They are catalysts and conversation-starters.


To maximize access to these resources, I’m offering several options for people:
rocky stream through mountain valley
  • The workshop in-person or online, with facilitation by me

  • The workshop in-person or online, using InVocation’s free video content and guidebook to help with facilitation

  • The workshop in-person or online, using just the free guidebook to do DIY facilitation

  • There are 2 versions of each of these options:

  • And the processing practices – a separate, miniature, self-directed version of the workshop guidebook; there are 6 versions of these:

In the post-pandemic transition, I believe offerings like the ones above will be necessary, and I hope institutions and individuals everywhere can come up with others as well. But I do not believe workshops and processing practices alone will be sufficient to help us cross the threshold of grief and growth. That’s why I’m also compiling a comprehensive directory of recovery and support resources – aggregating links to services, events, volunteering, financial assistance/relief, and more – available online, nationwide, and for my local community (and for yours too, if you can help me start a guide for your state). And it's why I hope others can help and do the same in their own communities. And that’s also why there’s a Part 2 to this proposal.


While we need sacred contexts for honoring our experience of the pandemic and what lies ahead, I believe we also need sacred contexts for celebration too! It’s downright relieving and joyful to be able to start calling an end to this time of hardship! Again, despite the caveats, celebration is another essential part of proclaiming the catastrophe over, declaring peace, emerging from confinement, embracing new freedom and recovery, releasing some of the weight dragging us down. A little bit of Roaring 2020s might actually help prevent a Lost Generation. So what might this look like?

meadow path passing along a creek and under a sheltering tree - Union Bay Natural Area, Seattle

CROSSING THE THRESHOLD – PART 2:

COMMUNITY FESTIVALS

This part of the proposal is simply a thought experiment, a pie-in-the-sky idea which I have no current plans of bringing to life. I hope someone feels – or many someones feel – inspired enough to take this concept and run with it, in which case I’d be only too excited to help out!


Let’s begin by imagining together…
view from the shore of Pacific Ocean sea stacks, waves, rocks - Ruby Beach, Olympic Peninsula

What if we all dedicated one month to doing everything we missed out on in the pandemic? What if every community – every block, neighborhood, town, city, county, even whole states or the whole country or the whole world – hosted a month-long transition dedicated to rebuilding togetherness and rekindling happiness? What if we had a Post-Pandemic Festival?


Let’s say it’s 30 days long. We have a day each of opening and closing ceremonies – parades, concerts, fireworks, recognition and awards for any and all essential workers, fundraisers benefitting people at home and abroad who are struggling to recover from the pandemic. In between we have 4 weeks, and each week everyone gets extra time off work and school to attend community-building events of their choice.


Weeks one and four, the themes are health, spirituality, and wellness (and service).

Hospitals offer free clinics in parking lots. Faith communities offer extra gatherings. Fitness studios, healing practitioners, and rec centers offer cheap classes and sessions. People can volunteer at any of these functions, or at cleanups and food drives, or by providing care or transportation so elders, kids, working parents, and essential workers can attend, etc. And throughout, there’s plenty of music and dancing.


Weeks two and three, the themes are connection, creativity, and culture (and service).

Matchmaking and mixer events are everywhere. Art, craft, game, and hobby groups open their circles. Museums, stadiums, theatres, and other venues have discounted admission and special public events. People keep volunteering. Plenty more music and dancing.

stone stairs passing a waterfall in the forest - Wales
Who’s going to coordinate all this? Where do the organization and personnel come from?

Maybe everyone: specially-commissioned committees, host institutions, volunteers, students who want to help facilitate and study a gigantic social experiment, all the above. Not essential workers though – no more extra work for the heroes that carried us through the pandemic, only extra time off.


Who’s going to pay for all this? Where does funding come from?

Maybe everyone: participants, donors/sponsors, colleges and universities, municipal, state, and federal government grants, all the above. Not essential workers though – for them everything is free, and hopefully they get extra pay. We throw gobs of money and small armies of people at elections every year, even special elections. Why not this?


How else can we encourage people to attend? Other than the obvious social draws and some obligatory advertising campaigns, how do we incentivize participation? And with all this free and discounted stuff, how do we incentivize businesses to buy in?

Maybe there’s an app, and through that, people get a certain number of “tickets” per week to attend events. Think of these tickets like a novel kind of currency, meant to advance community-building activities rather than purely economic activities. Folks can earn more tickets with every new person they meet, or every new place they go, or every time they volunteer or donate, or all the above, maybe with some activities earning more than others. Companies can earn tickets for their employees, clients, and customers by partnering with each other on and hosting events. These are just some of many possibilities.

sunlight streaming through lush green ferns and trees in thick forest community - Hoh Rainforest, Olympic National Park

I think one possibility we should avoid is the ability for people to sell or scalp tickets. We want to encourage deliberate participation in the spirit of the festival, and discourage doing the bare minimum. Imagine someone running around meeting people just for the sake of racking up tickets to scalp – such transactional behavior isn’t really conducive to new friendships, is it? Or imagine someone donating money only to then earn it back in a sale of newly “earned” tickets – not really a donation after all, is it? However, if anything, people should be able to give their tickets away to others who don’t have any.


In a similar vein, people probably shouldn’t be able to spend tickets on physical products. The intention for this currency is that folks would spend it on opportunities to socialize and try new experiences, not on consumption. Imagine someone treating this once-in-a-lifetime festival as a month-long shopping spree or couponing game, rather than as the ideal conditions for reinvigorating civic participation. The app could be structured to prohibit gamifying the festival for products, or it could simply make the “ticket”-cost of physical products really high, so bargain-hunters would almost have to have a different kind of experience on the way to whatever other treasures they seek. And all this to say, businesses could certainly hold sales and promotions throughout the festival to take advantage of increased customer traffic.


How do we ensure all of this has a lasting impact, and isn’t just some one-off month of partying followed by nothing more than a hangover?

There could be follow-up surveys through the app. Also, maybe people can continue using their tickets for things that they signed up for during the festival promotion period (like discounted membership to a participating gym or museum, or discounted season passes or classes somewhere) or for another future civic event (like an exclusive-access scavenger hunt a month later, or discounted entrance at the upcoming county fair). Maybe you can keep earning tickets if you return to a place you visited for the first time during the festival, or if you meet up again with someone you met during the festival, or if you continue volunteering or donating. Again, these are just some of many possibilities.

long path along beautiful ocean shore cliff toward door opening to sea horizon - Giant's Causeway
Sounds like there’s some potential here! When and where do we start?

Ideally, ASAP! The best timeframe in which to pull this off, at least in Northern latitudes, would probably be July of this year at the earliest and October at the latest. If you’re excited about this idea, start sharing this article with the hashtag #postpandemic among everyone you know, especially the most influential people you know, including your elected officials! And if you’re super excited about this idea, you could consider joining, leading, or forming a local planning committee!


What if we miss the boat on this? Can we still make use of this idea, other than as a big festival?

Definitely! We can spread the four weeks out over the course of a year, or do one week a month for four months – or even do one week a month for a whole year if we’re feeling ambitious. And the app could still facilitate the whole thing.


No matter what, I'll keep writing and trying to stimulate a public conversation about how we can reinvest in community-building going forward from the pandemic. I hope you find ways to take part in that conversation and reinvestment too.


DEDICATING OURSELVES TO THE TASK

For my own part, whatever happens, I dedicate my participation in all of this – the workshop, processing practices, and even potential festivals – to Marny, to Betty, to those kids, and to many others. I hope you dedicate your participation to your own loved ones, whether they still live with us or now live beyond.

vista from top of rushing waterfall of beautiful forest mountain valley - Bridal Vein Falls, Cascades, Washington, USA

Again, may these efforts be merely catalysts and conversation-starters. May all of us also continue working to heal the broader world, at home and abroad. May we use our stories, anger, grief, and hope in ongoing solidarity alongside those with fewer resources, so they too can begin moving toward recovery. And may we find ways to celebrate in that process.


I thank you for joining me in this work. I keep praying. I hope you do, too. Beyond protection, now also for peace.

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