My friends and family know that I’m an avid gardener. This time of year, I am closely following the weather trends, waiting for the barometer to rise enough to safely begin the “hardening off” process for my seedlings. Hardening off describes the process by which you gradually expose your plants to the elements of sun and wind and temperature gradients.
I feel like I’m going through a personal hardening off right now. The combination of warmer weather and vaccinations and an easing of restrictions in many areas is heralding a period of reopening. This spring is ushering in a wave of firsts, like the first post pandemic in person concert or indoor dining experience. Or the first family gathering. The first vacation. The first flight.
After the tumult and stress of this last year, all of these firsts might bring a mixture of relief and jubilation, but it may include some anxiety as well. I found this metaphor of hardening off so perfect today as I considered the gradual and intentional nature of exposure. For example, I know that if I were to put my seedlings out too soon on this 50 degree day, or suddenly expose them to 10 hours of glaring sunlight, the result would be the same—my poor babies would wither from the shock of it. Personal risk tolerance is a very personal matter, so I can only speak for myself to acknowledge that I need to take my time and acclimate to the kinds of things I’m willing to be exposed to. I’m going to start with a dinner out with a few of my closest friends, then I look forward to enjoying an outdoor concert with strangers. I’m slowly warming my way towards the idea of plane travel and multi-state family reunions and more. Most of all, I’m looking forward to being in person with my clients again, and for my son to have full time in-person school and my husband’s band to rock out to live audiences.
I can’t address the personal without the context of the global, with awareness of my place within the web of the greater whole. A vast disparity exists on any given day, so much so that it’s hard to write any of this with feeling, meaning and sensitivity to our very different lived experiences from one home or town to the next, let alone between states and nations. As I write today, the country of India is in a heart wrenching Covid firestorm, and many places in the world are still in a state of lockdown, in desperate need of aid. Beyond this pandemic, we are living in a time of racial reckoning, major wealth and opportunity disparities and ecological disaster, and, and… The suffering I’m aware of makes my homeschooling exhaustion or longing for my friends seem trite in comparison. What does one do with that awareness, that empathy, that call to serve? If this year has given us anything of value, it is an awakening to what is truly essential and meaningful. It has shown us how interdependent we are. It has shown us our privilege.
POWERFUL QUESTIONS (You can journal with these if you like, or sit with them in contemplation.)
Someone once asked me, “What is bigger than your fear?”. I love that one. I wonder for you, what is beckoning you to open the doors and re-emerge into the world? And what does your personal “hardening off” process look like? What little bit of risk or personal exposure are you taking this spring, and what are you most looking forward to over the next few months? What is your call to serve? Another important question is, what learning from this last year do you never want to forget? If any of these trigger some big ideas, I’d love to hear from you!
I’m not sure what a fully “hardened off” life will look like, but I imagine it feels like an echo of the past. It feels like the thrill of making plans and going on adventures. It’s possibility and expansiveness. It’s hope. What I do know is that it’s a process I can’t rush. It looks like a little risk and a little exposure, then checking in with myself. Rest. Recover. Repeat. This is how we build resilience.