As we celebrate Independence Day under lockdown here in the United States, we struggle to break free from the shackles of two pandemics —one caused by a virus we can’t see and the other caused by an equally hidden enemy within, the insidious contagion of ignorance and prejudice. But through the darkness, I see silver linings. We may not realize it, but we are entering a new era of self-enlightenment and celebrate a different form of Independence Day. For some of us it’s a road to recovery, a journey to freedom, liberation from a life of excess to one that is fulfilling.
Today on Independence Day, I think back to my own life six months ago and how much I have changed. Gone are the fixations with perfectly coiffed hair, manicured nails, and designer clothes and shoes. The Louboutins have long been packed away and my feet have never been happier. The few strands of grays or an unmade face don’t bother me anymore. I cherish the extra time I have from not having to go to the mall to buy things or return them. I don’t miss the long lines at the TSA security check in the airport. Nor do I miss the conventions and conferences with thousands of colleagues who you barely had the time to say hello to. It is nice to go back to basics, to have time to think, and emotionally engage. To re-learn to cook with a few staples from the pantry. To have meaningful conversations with friends and family. To press the reset button and see and experience life rather than let it pass you by.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting we all turn into monks and lead a life of chastity. But for a while there, as a society, we were stuck in the hamster wheel of life. From waking up in the morning, getting kids ready for school while also checking emails and texts from colleagues or bosses, to sitting in traffic on an endless commute and hours of mindless TV, our lives were a hectic blur, day after day. We were on autopilot. We needed to have independence from this type of life.
No wonder, then, that most people felt that their lives were spinning. As Fast Company reported last year, a Gallup study showed that more than two-thirds of Americans don’t feel passionate about their jobs, even though they spend a majority of their time at work. Add to that the average commute time, which according to the US Census Bureau is nearly 200 hours per year, and it’s no wonder we felt stuck and unable to get off the wheel. We were physically and socially close to our colleagues and friends and family but emotionally distant from people and issues that we care about.
The pandemic is a reminder that we need to slow down and reflect on how we want to live life when we do get to the new normal. Social distancing has taught us the importance of being connected to each other and of being there for friends and family. It has taught us to get in touch with our own emotions and to care about people and issues. To become socially conscious, to become inventive in showing how we care: by clapping for healthcare workers, by singing in choruses for a cause, by volunteering, by giving, by helping our neighbors and using our voice. The pandemic has locked us indoors but freed us to think about what really matters and reflect on the meaning of life.
How to celebrate Independence Day virtually this year.