I am interviewing small business owners for a magazine story I’m working on. As I listen, I marvel at how each of them is saying the same words to me when I ask how they decided to keep their doors open in March when state regulations and customer fears and a completely unknowable virus swept through the world.
We didn’t have a choice, they tell me.
What else could we do?
We had to find a way.
I realize, as I take my notes, that these business men and women are not just telling me their stories. They are sharing wisdom for us all.
It’s September now, a full six months since our everyday lives were shuttered and shifted and shaken. Most of us are still here. Some of us are mourning those who are not.
But whether we’ve lost our loved ones or our jobs or our savings or our plans or our ideas of what the world should be like, eventually we have to put one foot in front of the other. We have to — and not in the way we thought we would — move forward.
We don’t have a choice.
It stinks, mostly. The losses, big and small. Virtual school. College students sent home only days after they moved into their dorms. Whole sports seasons ended before they began. Theaters dark. Music silenced.
I am the first to let the disappointments crawl in and get me down.
But when I see the artists and entrepreneurs and city leaders and neighborhood volunteers bravely searching for new paths, I am inspired. If they can put aside their fears and search for creative solutions, so can I. Right?
What else can we do?
All summer as I made choices for my family (Camp? Yes. Vacation? No. In-person music lessons? Well, Zoom lessons are working well-enough.) my mantra was: How can we keep moving forward? Smartly. Safely. Responsibly. But trying hard not to stay stuck in the same place.
I knew I could mess this up. I knew I could make a terrible mistake. I knew I could regret my decision. I knew everyone wouldn’t agree with the calls I made.
But I also knew that three months, four months, six months was too long to stand still.
There’s something else the business owners talked about: Their dedication to others. Whether their staff or their family or their customers or their community, there were people whose welfare they felt responsible for and that’s what got them out of bed every day.
For me, it’s my kids — two teens and tween. There’s no way I can trap them in our home if there are woods to wander or responsible places for them to practice their passions. There’s no way I can hide under the covers and wish the sadness would leave us be. (Though many days I want to.)
We have to find a way.
Back in April, my husband planted sunflower seeds in a small patch of dirt along the stairs to our basement. We would see them from our breakfast nook windows once they grew tall and strong.
But they didn’t grow. The squirrels dug up many of them. Others sprouted, then withered. Then, when I dashed down the stairs a few weeks ago, I noticed a few flowers had pushed high into the air.
They made for a straggly stand — we’ve had prettier crops other years. But this August, that only made these more striking.
These sunflowers bloomed. They poked from the soil and stretched upward. And in the end became a bright spot in a troubled summer.
So, as the days grow darker and the uncertainty waxes and there’s less opportunity to be outside, I will take a deep breath. I will look to my sunny blossoms. I will hear the words of people with more energy and optimism than I have.
And I will find a way to take another step into the unknown.