I am buying graduation decorations and stringing them up. A big “Congratulations” banner will hang across the window on the back porch. The new outdoor lights dipping down from the upstairs balcony will turn the screen porch into an outdoor room. The table will be set with flowers, party napkins and plastic blue and purple tinted wine glasses. An expensive bottle of wine will be poured. There is only one person attending this party, and it’s me.
I have decided that I am graduating from the pandemic. Not actually the pandemic, but my pandemic state of mind. The Delta variant is a very real thing, and I will still be wearing my mask when out in public spaces and washing my hands. What I need is to move from my pandemic mindset and walk into what is next in my life. That is true of all graduations — beyond the pomp and circumstance march — the transition from student to real life is a slow walk. There are normal daily tasks to be done, and there are job searches, paths to discover, your own preferences to understand and choices to make about what is next.
I can make this move from a pandemic state of mind because I am vaccinated. My parents are vaccinated. My son, who has autism and is vulnerable to this and any virus, is vaccinated. My hospitality worker husband is vaccinated. My son’s father who has diabetes is vaccinated. I was not worried about any effects from the vaccine. I agreed with one cartoon whose main character was sitting calmly in a room on fire asking the question, “Yes, but what are the long term effects of flame retardant foam?” We will learn more and find more ways of dealing with this virus, but the effects of a world without smallpox, polio, measles and Covid-19 outweigh any concerns of mine. In fact, the terror of this year lifted almost immediately from me on getting the first dose of Pfizer.
I felt it like it was a too heavy winter coat dropping to the ground as I walked out my door on a spring day. The terror fell from me as the bandaid was placed on my left arm. I didn’t realize that for the past year I had been under a reign of terror, but as soon as it lifted, I saw what it was. I was terrorized by my own breath. Breathing out could mean death to my 87-year-old parents, a traumatic illness for my son whose effects could last and be unknown to me for years. Breathing in could mean that I was taking in death from someone close to me. And by close to me, I mean near. The person behind me in line for groceries who refused to wear a mask. The good friend who sat with me on a porch six feet away but whom I hugged because I forgot that we don’t hug. The contractor who installed our new ac unit who sweat and huffed and puffed back and forth through our house and into our ducts for eight hours straight.
Because I am vaccinated, the underlying fear of my breath being death has been lifted. It will not bring death to me or my vaccinated loved ones. It still may come from the breath of another, but between our normal diligence — I’ve worked in live events and theme parks for so long that sanitizing, washing hands, getting flu shots and other general avoidance of touching in crowds has been standard behavior — and the addition of masks as needed (I may never take a long plane ride without one again) — moves me from susceptible to inoculated.
Which brings me to my commencement. One of the things I do is train leaders on using story techniques in their marketing. I was teaching recently on ‘closing the story loop’ and releasing your audience. I heard myself say, “You need to release them from this story to start the next one.” Ah, well, maybe I need to do that too because while the reign of terror for me is done, the low-grade stress remains. The story loop is still open. I’m still asking “What happens next?” about my own life. As a storyteller, in order to start a new Once Upon A Time, I need to close this chapter.
I plan to use the technique I learned when I was a casting director at the American Idol show at Walt Disney World. We used the phrase “Bless and Release” daily. When young singers would come in, not quite ready for the stage, it was our job to turn them away. We adopted this tone of “Bless and Release” as a way to help our team with the mental drain of rejecting people all day long. It also served us in how we let them go — we could give them an experience, a blessing, that could travel with them as we released them back to the park. We did that mostly by giving them some bit of insight or instruction that would give them strength and make this ‘no’ a teaching moment instead of a failed attempt. I’ve found that this is generally a good way to live.
So I will bless and release this year. I’ve written a commencement address that I will read aloud to myself. I plan to tout all the achievements of my pandemic experience, what I’ve overcome, what I’ve been given and what I will take away. I will toast to my extraordinary achievement, accomplishments, close the book and graduate from this time into my next chapter.
Categories: Alice's Voice
“you need to release them from this story to start the next one” is some relevant wisdom I didn’t know I needed to hear/read. It applies to my writing, but also public speaking I’ve done in the past (both pre- and mid-pandemic). There was another surprising connection I made too. I’m going to carry that quote with me and find my own occasion to decorate it with.