“We run like a river
Runs to the sea
We run like a river
To the sea.”– Adam Clayton/David Evans
Anyone that has done a cursory study of psychology has run into Erickson’s stages of development. It came after Freud’s stages and was revolutionary because it included stages for later in life. Proving his mind might have been in the gutter, Freud somehow stopped at puberty and completely ignored the crises that occur later in life.
Those in my age group are in the generativity vs. stagnation stage. We either have families and good paying jobs or we don’t. However, I don’t think that’s really the crisis behind the stage. Hollywood and creative writers do a much better job of capturing what goes on in the mind than a psychologist with a cookie cutter theory.
Time may move forward at a steady pace, but our minds do not. We move forward for years at a time without incident and then suddenly stop to dwell on the past. What would have happened if I had taken a different path? What if I would have chased a dream here or made a different decision there? Would I be the same person?
Memory is a fluid kind of thing. Events that happened 30 years ago seemingly happened yesterday in our minds. Fortunately or unfortunately, we cannot play the game of life like a choose your own adventure book. Maybe it would be better if we could dog ear those pages and choose both options just to satisfy our curiosities.
We are coming to the memories stage of the pandemic. This whole thing started nearly one year ago and when you get to a calendar year the mind starts to chronicle where it has been. For many of us, we can look at every major holiday and normal life event and list the numbers of activities and experiences we have lost forever.
Many will focus on the loss of life and health and for good reason. We can never trivialize the loss of life in any context. However, millions have lost something very meaningful even if they haven’t lost anyone close to them. They’ve lost experiences they will never get back and there is no alternate timeline where we can see what we missed.
Of course, the flip side is that if you’ve never experienced those things then you don’t know what you’re missing. Psychologists talk about stages of grief and those are well-documented and established, but most if not all of them target the loss of a loved one in our lives. What does grief look like for those experiences that we miss? Acceptance is the last stage supposedly, but do we ever really come to terms with what we’ve lost?
At every step in this thing we have battled the competing desires to finally beat the virus once and for all and the desire to return to normalcy as quickly as possible. Often, the second goal interferes with the first and vice versa. A large part of the problem is that we just don’t know how long. If someone could definitively say that we can hunker down until April then this whole thing will be behind us then all of us could resign ourselves to another six or seven weeks of playing it safe. Unfortunately, no one can make any such definitive statement. There are just too many variables.