The Clear Path

“We are all dealing with the collective loss of the world we knew. The world we knew is now gone forever.”

David Kessler’s words stop me in my path.

It’s a clear early April morning and I’m walking with David and Brené Brown on Crissy Field, a gorgeous expanse of natural space bordered by the Golden Gate Bridge, the San Francisco Bay, the Presidio and my Marina District home.

David’s sentence made Brené stop, too.

“Oh, God,” she paused. “When you say that, I just want to burst into tears. I just want to have normal back.”

OK, I wasn’t really walking with these two renowned experts. I was walking alone and listening to Brené interview David as part of her newly-launched Unlocking Us podcast.

Brené and her podcast are part of the new routine I committed to at the beginning of week three of “shelter in place” triggered by COVID-19. When I leave the house, I tell my husband I’m off to walk with Brené. While it’s only her voice coming through my headphones, I swear she’s walking (six feet away) alongside me. I love her company, and that she brings along interesting friends like David.

The world as we knew it is behind us.”

David repeats his heavy statement. I stop, look down at the phone in my hands, and press pause on the podcast conversation. Like Brené, I want the phrase to sink in. 

I take a deep breath and look forward. I don’t want to look behind me—who wants to look at loss? But I try to visualize that world as we knew it. I envision a collage—like one of those mosaics you make of words and images cut out of magazines pasted together with Elmer’s glue. There are faces and vistas; words and symbols. They evoke every emotion. Some of the images are personal to me; some pertinent to us all.

Then I look up and take in the actual visual before me. My eyes follow a long narrowing gravel path lined by grass a shade of green you only see early in Spring. At the path’s pinnacle are two mature trees; some distance beyond are the San Francisco Bay and the Berkeley hills. Resting atop it all is a clear morning sky the most hopeful hue of baby blue. I take in the silence—no wind, cars or airplanes. There isn’t a soul in sight. Not one single human being.

The timing of David’s words with this visual could not be a coincidence. It was like being given a blank canvas with some basic provisions— life, water, sky, color and the ability to create. I could reach back and take whatever I wanted from the mosaic behind me. And I could move forward—when and how I chose to move forward—leaving whatever I wanted to leave behind.

Could this be the great reset? For me. For you. And for all of us? If so, the most important thing we can do is accept the gift.

I hit play to rejoin the conversation with David and Brené. 

David speaks of his work with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, known for identifying the five stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance—a framework we humans each messily work through following the death of a loved one. His ideas sound familiar. As I walk, I realize it had been David’s insights in a Harvard Business Review (HBR) article That Discomfort You’re Feeling is Grief that I’d recently come across on Facebook. Apparently, his insights resonated with many—my friends are among the 8,000 people who’ve shared the article.

For me, the article related to what I’d been feeling over the prior weeks. I was sad having to unravel my upcoming Venture Travel and stressed about the completely uncertain future for travel. It wasn’t just logistics—connecting people and ideas is my mission and meaning. I wasn’t sleeping well. I felt distracted—unable to finish a book, write a blog post, and with little energy or desire to jump into thinking about other ways of accomplishing my mission. And then there was the guilt. I’m healthy, comfortably sheltered in place, and can walk this beautiful landscape from my front door—who was I to feel frustrated and sad when there’s comparatively much greater loss? David answered.

“We need to stop comparing losses. The worst loss is always your loss.”

“Oh my gosh, stop!” interrupts Brené. “Say that again.”

David continues, explaining that each person’s losses are valid and legitimate. He pauses. There’s continued silence in the conversation. Where was Brené? 

“Did I leave you speechless?” David asks.

“Yeah, you really did,” Brené returns, asking her producers to leave in her very real extended pause in the podcast editing.

“We’re going to find meaning. We’re going to come out the other side. And we’re going to recall the things we used to do.”

David’s most recent work adds on to Kübler-Ross’ by adding a sixth stage to the denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance grief stages—meaning. While he wrote Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief in 2019, he’s likely found deeper meaning talking about it during 2020.

I’m solidly in the acceptance phase. A few days after my conversation with Brené and David, I came across this chart (unknown original source) on Facebook. I re-shared it and have seen many others do so.

It helped me see that I was “living on the edge” in the growth zone—helping neighbors, outreaching to several friends each day, finding ways to use my advocacy to help others, learning through webinars, trying out new routines. Having accepted the new reality, I’m figuring out how to proceed.

We’re all at different stages, moving in different ways. We’re simultaneously helping and being helped. Some of us will take longer than others to come through the tunnel. What’s on the other side? I’m still not sure.

My greatest fear is that we rush to a “return to normal” led by external forces. We’ve been given the rare gift of a reset. A new normal is ours to create. What do you want to bring from the past to complement your new learnings from this unexpected present?

The path is ours to create.

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Jodi Morris Written by:

Venture Guide to High-Achieving Seekers. Success Coach. Venture Travel Curator. Impact Investor. Traveler. Writer. Global Connector. When we connect to others' stories it changes our own. Let's Venture!