“Not all who wander are lost.” I believe the quote originated from a line in J.R.R Tolkien’s the Lord of the Rings poem “All that Gold Does Not Glitter.”
Though not everyone can connect to the lore of a fictional journey, most of us can relate to the human emotion of being deemed “lost,” either by ourselves or someone else. During the pandemic, it’s a feeling that’s become all too common in many of our lives. We find ourselves waking up to a potentially new reality every day. Heading in the direction of any given fate and taking a series of steps in multiple directions—truly not sure where the next step might lead us, hoping to land on some sort of answer. Jordan Beckman
For me, newly 30 and living with my fur dependents in Fort Wayne, the pandemic was a time to reflect on what it means to be—or to have felt—“lost” in life. Many of us have felt a “loss” financially, emotionally, or even, morally throughout this pandemic.
While my “losses” this past year have been admittedly few compared to others who have lost loved ones or jobs or homes, this question of what it means to be “lost” has been on my mind a lot lately. Maybe it’s Valentine’s Day approaching, or maybe it’s just a long winter of being socially isolated, but I’ve been reflecting on how love and loss are connected in our lives, and this reflective journey started with feeling lost myself.
To give you some background, feeling lost is not new to me. Maybe it’s not new to you either. Most of this past decade of my life, I had felt incredibly pathless, often giving in to my own self-destructive tendencies through my “terrible twenties,” crowning myself “King of the Lost Boys.” I’ve never been the one looking to grow up or even grow into what I thought I had to be by this age. At times, I entertained the idea of “settling down.” Maybe changing my surroundings. Maybe pushing for that job I wanted. Or maybe just hanging a few new pictures on the walls of my apartment.
When you feel a void, you develop a natural feeling of yearning—not necessarily to live a predictable life, but to approach each day feeling a little less tired. Just before the pandemic, my pathless wandering had led me to a place riddled with questions. What type of person am I going to become? What type of person do I want to be? And even if I try, can I keep working toward these small victories of adulthood without fully committing to the idea of becoming a pirate—I mean, an adult?
As I was serving myself a round of bottomless questions, the pandemic began, and with that, the shutdown. Now, I was forced to face my own accountability with limited outside recourses to influence a grand push in any particular direction. Taken out of my normal routine of Sunday brunch, 60-hour work weeks, and downtown events, I was shifted to a full-time position of dealing with myself without the distractions. No vacation time. No breaks. Just reviews.
While being in solitude during the shutdown, I was like a disoriented Alice stumbling into a dream-state. Was 2020 my Wonderland? A physical interruption of my own ideas and dreams? Did I simply accept the chaos around me, trying to understand the moments that mattered, but wishing so hard for this all to be over? How did Alice come out the rabbit hole unscathed? Maybe she didn’t. Maybe I wouldn’t.
Are adults allowed to have a coming-of-age story? Though some would say a 30-year-old should have MOST of life figured out by now, those in a later-than-30 stage might beg to differ. If Carrie Bradshaw can start her Season 1, Episode 1 in her thirties, then maybe the pop culture gods would allow me to do so, as well. But that’s the funny thing about being an adult: Who’s going to tell me “no” if I tried?
Living through a pandemic, in this half-adult, half-child stage of life has made me question what it means to be an adult and a child. When you’re a child, they say your first real heartbreak is when you find out your parents aren’t superheroes. They need to ask for help, too. In a way, realizing the insufficiency of adulthood is a part of growing up, so why does it feel so empty-handed to be an adult yourself and to feel so… directionless?
When push comes to shove, we “adults” know we can switch into survival mode to support for our families when called to task. But how do you articulate this to a child? How do you articulate this to the child in yourself?
In “normal” conditions, we may be able to explain our agendas when it comes to our goals with love, a career path, or a third eye opening path toward a healthier lifestyle. But this year feels different. We’ve been living in a state of constant pivoting to adapt to the world around us. It’s hard to know anything for sure.
Locally, we’ve seen the precarious state of our world play out in Fort Wayne. Entrepreneurs, like Son Ngo and Stephanie Ruiz, have written about the challenges that come with being new business owners and opening during the pandemic. Oliva Lehman wrote a beautiful article on breakups and the current dating world during a lockdown. And countless of my own teacher friends have expressed how their worth has been called into question at the end of the day with a shower thought in the back of their mind: “Did I even make a difference?”
But for me, watching the pandemic play out around me has been like watching a full American Black Friday sale at the mall. I could see everyone running around, going after what they wanted in a frenzy, and I had to concentrate and think, “What do I want? Where do I go?”
My goals: Where are they?
Though my life is messy, I’m a fairly organized individual, so I do have goals. But it goes without saying that goals seem to gain no validity these days unless they are posted for everyone to see on social media. There’s a pressure to put the volunteer “followers” of our life to work when it comes to accountability. I mean: Is it a true coming of age story if no one is paying attention?
We want others views of us to define our character, our ideology, and personal boundaries. But do they respect our journey? Or is it all imposter syndrome, waiting to come to light like a villain in a thriller. “I knew it the whole time!”
What does seem odd, and grossly satisfying, about this way of living is when our audience is taken in by the information we put out and grows a little wiser from our content. Maybe our goals make others feel inspired to do the same—or even help some become un-lost?
As I post during the pandemic, I can’t help but wonder: What am I putting out today? Do I have this new responsibility to be hopeful even though I’m not sure what survival looks like for me this month? Are my goals not only important to me, but how to I make them believable to others? Is this post for my loved ones knowing I’m okay today? Do I do it just for them, or do I need to do this for myself? Even when I’m holed up in my apartment, what space do I allow myself to grow when no one is looking?
Perhaps most hauntingly: When there are people dying around the world, how dare I live this way?
Seeing the world unravel in 2020 has taught me that I can’t take on the world, but I can control what is in my own world. It feels strange to say, but I knew I needed this pandemic, socially distant time to be able to move forward. I needed a way to deconstruct real progress with myself versus what I put out on social media. I needed the understanding of what’s real and what is “bullshit,” as my Great Grandmother Martha would say.
As a society, we have come a long way since this time last year when the pandemic began. Not to jinx ourselves and say that things are much calmer now, but I think we can all look at the past year to some extent at this point, and try to process what exactly happened. During this pandemic, our mortality was moved to the forefront of our lives in many ways, and we had to address a lot of morbid variables. It got me thinking: Have I had a good life? How am I filling my time? Did I just survive alone, or did I find a silver lining to the tragedy of it all?
It got me thinking about “loved ones,” too. To me, the term “loved ones” refers to people in our lives of whom we have effortless thoughts that correlate to the meaning of “being at home.” It refers to people with whom the word “stay” has felt more powerful than ever these past few months—more purpose-driven than a prayer.
Maybe you have not had enough time with your loved ones this year. Maybe not enough words were shared. Maybe grudges and resentments were held onto longer than we intended because we haven’t become fully conscious of our apology language.
Reflecting on my goals, my journey this past year, and my relationship with loved ones makes me realize that maybe this pandemic gifted us something after all. Living in a constant state of “emotional survival” isn’t something I fully considered when it came to the lockdown of 2020 and how it can affect my choices moving forward. But it’s what got me through most of it—making the decisions I had to make at the time to survive emotionally while maintaining the integrity of my character (or at least its latest version).
The results of learning to emotionally survive with others gave me not only the ability to create a space to mentally prepare for what bridge this quest was requiring me to cross, but also the compacity to love who I am now and to know this isn’t my final form.
There is an unshakable element in all these platitudes that signifies our soul and gives our actions purpose. Its ability to adapt and survive with the times can make is hard to notice, even when it’s even present.
Eyeroll moment, I know. But I’ve realized that with the burning signature of its own accord, love has been present during every moment of my life: The shutdown, my wandering twenties, and my childhood. No step was taken without it present. Learning to dance with it now, I don’t think I ever fully embraced my own way to sway with it before. I had always been on high alert during tough times, resting only when I felt safe. But love is not a safe emotion. It doesn’t require us to know everything. It requires swaying. It requires chance, and change, and whimsy.
Love gives the good moments its picture frame. It gives anger its flavor. It gives grief its ability to be as destructive as it may feel at times. And while I sorted through the mess of my surroundings in solitude in 2020, I see now how love remained my houseguest.
That’s the thing about love. It never leaves us. I’ll say it again: Love never leaves. Not even during the shutdown of self-work and goals. Not standing in line, hoping to collect unemployment. Not when we made contactless visits to our loved ones.
It was there when we had to become the teacher to our children—and the teacher to ourselves. It never even left the mornings we could not get out of bed, but managed to do so anyways with a cup of coffee and a prayer. Love is the work we’re putting into action, and with experience, comes the value of being “experienced.”
Though this world has attempted to break our hearts, our goals, and our institutions many times, we have fortified them with newer, deeper understandings of our collective, love-bound emotional strength. The collateral beauty I’ve seen this past year has been our ability, as humans, to put ourselves in another’s shoes and to help each other survive the storms we face, with the love of understanding that we are all still learning. Through loss and pain and the joys of what’s new, love is not afraid to be seen anymore. No matter the interpretation, love is always present, quietly sometimes, hoping we are able to notice its involvement and how it is here to help us.
We are learning to love thy neighbor, to love our time with friends and family, to love the space we create, to love ourselves, to love the art of our work, and perhaps most importantly: To love the faults in the journey.
Through pain, grief, joy, and death, love has given us this opportunity to redefine our own definition of it. And during the re-working of its meaning in my life, it has better shaped a path out of the woods that I once deemed my immature, intolerable youth—as well as this new world of uncertainty in which we live.
Leaving Wonderland, I’m still stuck at a crossroads, deciding who I am and who I will be. But as I reflect on the endless questions and choices before me, I’m beginning to realize that I have mistakenly attached myself to this idea of HAVING to choose something in the first place.
Why? During this pandemic of changing rules, could I not choose to change my own rules, too? I’ve learned that life is unpredictable, but my emotional strength, and the collective emotional strength of the human spirit, has the power to carry us through. And with this realization came newfound strength.
When it comes to facing the questions and challenges of life, I would like to say we should simply throw on some Robyn “Dancing on My Own” and underwear dance our stress away. But maybe the real gift of 2020 is knowing that stress is simply a part of the journey, as is uncertainty, and the good news is: Not all who wander are lost. THANK GOD.
Maybe the gift is the beauty of asking for help as an adult when you need it—and doing so without shame. Maybe the gift is the beauty of asking for advice or asking for love when you need it, too—because we’re all connected.
Maybe it’s understanding that all the gold you see in others’ journeys does not always glitter, and remembering that anything tarnished in your own life can be shined and restored with some long-overdue attention.
Through it all, remember: There’s no love lost.