When someone asks if you want the bad news or the good news first, what do you usually choose?
For me, it’s always the bad news. And this applies to most things in life. If you had asked me at the start of 2020 or any year, “Well… do you want the bad news or good news first?” I would have chosen the former option every time.
But this particular year feels like the universe started to tell us the bad news and then just… kept talking. And talking. And talking. For a while, I absorbed the unrelenting stream of scary headlines day after day. And while it certainly wasn’t pleasant, I felt full of resolve, grounding in the belief that the good news was coming. I could take a longer stay-at-home order or a canceled wedding or wearing masks or not seeing my friends and families for the better part of an entire year, I told myself, because eventually… the good news would come. It had to be just around the corner, right? I kept waiting for the silver lining — searching for it, reaching for it, wondering if I missed it. When it didn’t come after 30 days, then 60 days, then 70, I stopped anticipating it altogether.
Maybe, I thought, the good news wasn’t coming. Maybe good news just looks different now. It’s not that I wasn’t actively thankful for so many things, namely the health of myself and our loved ones, because I was (I still am, of course). But I was also done getting my hopes up and being disappointed. I was done having hopeful conversations that always seemed to end with, “Well, I guess none of us really knows what will happen, anyway.”
And then on one rainy Saturday morning, I watched Cast Away. Jake and I had just made our coffee and settled in on the couch with Winnie, and it felt like as good a time as any to watch a Tom Hanks classic. Jake did refuse to fast-forward through the scary plane crash scene per my request, but I digress.
Even if you’ve never watched Cast Away, you probably know Cast Away, anyway. Man ends up on deserted island. Man finds volleyball. Man survives. It was during that last part, when Hanks’ character Chuck finally makes it back to his home in Memphis, that I found myself listening a little closer than I had in the past, though.
Chuck is sitting on the couch, talking to a friend about how he decided he would survive on his deserted island, day after day, despite the fact that he had accepted that he would likely be there for the rest of his life. He had accepted that he would never get back to Memphis (and his girlfriend Kelly) again. And one day, years into accepting that he would probably die on this island, a piece of debris came in during the tide that allowed him to create a sail and be rescued. But enough of my play-by-play. This is what he says during that scene that really got me thinking:
“And that’s when this feeling came over me like a warm blanket. I knew, somehow, that I had to stay alive. Somehow. I had to keep breathing. Even though there was no reason to hope. And all my logic said that I would never see this place again. So that’s what I did. I stayed alive. I kept breathing. And one day my logic was proven all wrong because the tide came in, and gave me a sail. And now, here I am. I’m back. In Memphis, talking to you. I have ice in my glass… And I’ve lost her all over again. I’m so sad that I don’t have Kelly. But I’m so grateful that she was with me on that island. And I know what I have to do now. I gotta keep breathing. Because tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring?”
Of course, COVID-19 is not the same thing as being on a deserted island. This is not a Tom Hanks movie (though I would give a lot to be living in You’ve Got Mail right now). But it is easy right now to feel that we will never see a place again that has no masks, no distancing, no restrictions, no fear. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine that place at all. And while I don’t know if the world will ever look exactly the same as it did just a few months ago, I do know, in the same way that Chuck knew, exactly what we have to do now.
Pandemic or not, tomorrow the sun will rise. And pandemic or not, none of us know what the tide could bring — whether we’re actively hopeful or not. So if you’re like me, and you’re tired of the seemingly endless wait for good news, know that you’re not alone. Know that it’s also OK if you’re not being productive or finding the silver lining or making the “most” of all of this (whatever that means). Know that it’s OK to just keep breathing.
It’s true that maybe — probably — we’ll all wake up in a week or two weeks or three weeks, and things will still look like this. But there’s also the possibility that one day we’ll wake up and things will be different. Maybe one day there will be a sail.