To start 2021 off on the right foot, I gathered advice on how to move forward during this period of paralysis, I mean, uncertainty. I’m not a resolution setter, usually relying on a motto for the year instead of individualized goals, because those would require follow-through and accountability. I like a broader, vaguer canvas upon which to paint my future. But after all that 2020 wrought, I was coming up empty on motivational phrases. Please don’t touch me. Trader Joe’s is terrifying. Mind the droplets. All captured the moment, but none created any momentum to launch me into whatever 2021 will hold. Clearly, I needed some inspiration.
I consulted a therapist, called a rabbi, and googled “hurtling towards the abyss.” Not surprisingly, the first two options yielded thoughtful conversations about compassion and connection; the third revealed a Reddit community called Stoner Philosophy, 125,000 members strong who claim to be high or “in a similarly lofty mindset.” Of course, they have their motto ready to go: “We are all hurtling towards the abyss at a terrifying velocity.” Sort of a downer, Stoner Philosophers. Mind the droplets, boys.
But Dr. Stephanie Newman of New York City, who bills herself as “The Psychotherapist Next Door,” had a more helpful view of how to move forward during a time when time has no meaning. “Do the things that give you a modicum of control. You can’t stop the pandemic, but you can take care of those in your bubble,” she advises. Huge relief, Dr. Steph, because I’m wholly unqualified to stop a virus if it means more than wearing my mask and maintaining the flame on my Dr. Fauci shrine. But I have kept my bubble fed, walked, and up to date on her shots. (Sure, I have a husband and adult children, but it’s really my dog who gets most of my attention.) Dr. Newman also suggests, “Focus on what you didn’t have before and what you do have now.”
That’s a big idea that will keep us from the edge of the abyss. In the “Didn’t Have Before” column, most of us would put down time, time, and time. In the “What We Do Have Now” column, we can add the weight gain equivalent to a few homemade sourdough loaves and a few extra inches of hair in strange places that take us back to our worst ‘80s look. But we’ve renewed our love of jigsaw puzzles, taught our elders how to turn on their computers and mute their mics, and spent an insane number of hours with the people in our house. Has it all been a lovefest? No, of course not. (My condolences to households with school-aged kids where Algebra 2 and conference calls are all happening at the dining room table on the same Wi-Fi.) But there’s a possibility that if we get back to normal in 2021, we might miss the jigsaw puzzles.
Which brings us to the rabbi. That would be Rabbi/Cantor Judy Greenfeld of Nachshon Minyan of Encino. She goes by the moniker “The Relationship Rabbi,” which proves that, in my sample size of two advisers, having a kicky nickname is a winning schtick. Rabbi Judy delivered with the warm and fuzzies. She says that this pandemic has allowed us to outreach meaningfully with others, increase our capacity for compassion, and expand our bandwidth for empathy. Rabbi Judy, you are a quote machine! And I really, really hope you’re right about all of the above. But I needed more to help me head into the new year; I needed hope! And she delivered. “Remember, the joy will return,” said the good rabbi.
Remember, the joy will return. You’re welcome. Go ahead and steal that as your new mantra. Please, oh please, let the joy return. Along with joy, here is a short list of other things I wish will return: crowded movie theaters, bustling bars, raucous weddings, tear-filled graduations, Friday night football, Sunday services, fourth-grade talent shows, unnecessary work off-sites, robotic competitions, overpriced meals, and Hall & Oates. That’s right, I have tickets for Hall & Oates at the Hollywood Bowl in October 2021, a reschedule from May 2020. My high school friends are flying out from Connecticut and, for one night, we’ll be 16 again. I’ll know for sure the joy has returned when I’m in my box at the Bowl in my acid-washed jeans and John and Daryl tear into “Maneater.” Mind the droplets, boys. Mind the droplets.