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Healing for the holidays

| Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Kerry Schneeman | The Observer

When I was about nine, I fell off my bike.

My brother and I had ridden our bikes to the park, and on the way back, I veered off the sidewalk, fell on the pavement and skinned my knee. It was a pretty nasty fall — my poor, seven-year-old brother stared at me with wide eyes as he watched me limp back home. When I finally made it up the driveway, my mom took me upstairs to clean it with Neosporin and bandage it up.

In hindsight, I probably needed stitches. Even now, 11 years later, I still have a scar the shape of South America adorning my right knee. It might not hurt any longer, but my knee was never the same — the wound never quite healed properly, despite the careful attention given to it by my mother.

The concept of healing is fascinating and deeply complex. Physically speaking, the healing process is a scientific one, involving various stages of inflammation and tissue growth. Yet, even health professionals recognize that healing is more than just scabbing and scarring. Some health scholars have defined healing as “the transcendence of suffering,” a process related to intensely personal beliefs about distress, what it means to be human and how to make ourselves whole. Given that definition, it is unsurprising that for many, healing the sick and wounded is central to their religious or spiritual beliefs, prompting practices like praying for divine intervention or collecting natural crystals and rocks some believe contain the power to heal.

I thought of my skinned knee and its souvenir and what it means to heal as I watched now President-Elect Joe Biden address the nation Saturday night and declare “this is the time to heal in America.” It’s rhetoric the Biden campaign has used throughout this entire election cycle, portraying America in the Trump era as wounded, sore and tender, in desperate need of some Neosporin.

Regardless of your political beliefs, anyone who has lived through 2020 as an American can recognize this country is dealing with some raw, open wounds. Some are new, causing unprecedented fear and devastation while forcing a new reality we’re all still trying to adjust to; some are old, reopened by events that proved to many of us the wounds had never really healed and that others were, indeed, right in thinking they never had. Some are the result of one man’s arrogance, making us reckon with who we want to be and if we could still truly love our neighbor; some are the result of our collective arrogance, forcing us to question our responsibility to our planet and process the possibility we may not be eternal.

While these wounds are collective, staining our country’s soul, it’s impossible to ignore the suffering many are going through individually. Some have lost loved ones to COVID-19, others to the increasingly common natural disasters all around the country. The Notre Dame community has also suffered its share of tragedy this year. Beyond grief and loss, we are all separated from people we love, places we love and activities we love. In late June, more than 40% of U.S. adults reported struggling with mental health or substance abuse. This year has not been easy on any of us.

And here we are, staring down its last 50 days. How can we possibly begin to heal?

If you’ve been reading my columns this semester, you know I rarely pretend to have a solution, especially when the problem is one that no one can seem to solve. If healing is the transcendence of suffering, we have a lot of work to do, probably decades worth of work, before those wounds can start to close. I don’t know exactly what that should look like or how to make it happen or who should help us bandage up. I’m also not even sure how ready we are to begin healing — coronavirus cases seem to be rising in most states and this transfer of presidential power is not looking particularly smooth.

What I do know is how I can personally begin to heal. I start to feel those wounds healing when I drive down I-80 playing Taylor Swift’s magnum opus (yes, it’s “Red”; no, this is not open for debate). I start to feel the pain subside when I order takeout with my roommates and spend a Saturday night watching the Fighting Irish send Clemson packing. I start to feel scars healing up when I drive down the same street I skinned my knee on to my childhood home, to find my parents waiting for me with open arms and my dog running out to meet me.

What I also know is that Notre Dame’s administration has blessed us with a 10-week winter break this year. I am extraordinarily lucky and grateful to know that I will be safe, cared for and loved during my time away from campus, and I am fully aware not everyone has that privilege. Regardless of your situation, however, I hope you find time over the holidays to start to heal. I hope you start a new skincare routine or see some of your hometown friends (masked and distanced, of course). I hope you spend this holiday season making time for yourself and reconnecting with those you love.

The wounds causing us pain in 2020 may never be fully healed, and maybe some of them shouldn’t be. But when the ball drops (If the ball drops?) and we ring in 2021, I hope you feel a little more whole and a little less sore. Even if this year ends up permanently changing us, we still need to reach for that Neosporin. I mean, worst-case scenario, we end up with a cool little scar, right?

Ellie Konfrst is a junior majoring in political science, with minors in the Hesburgh Program in Public Service and civil and human rights. Originally from Des Moines, Iowa, she’s excited that people will finally be forced to listen to all of her extremely good takes. She can be reached at [email protected] or @elliekonfrst13 on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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