Be the Change

Here’s my latest short story to start the new year. I hope you enjoy it!

Be the Change

Crystal burrowed down into her comforter and peeked out, scanning her room. She wasn’t sure what she hoped to see, but clearly nothing had changed. The same mess of papers were scattered on the top of her dresser and yesterday’s clothes—and maybe clothes from the day before—littered her floor. Sighing her disappointment, she closed her eyes and rolled over.

At midnight, the whole world had collectively kicked 2020 to the curb. Leading up to the last day of a dreadful year, Crystal’s Facebook feed had been full of words of hope and clever memes heralding the dawn of a healthier, happier, kinder year. Crystal had her doubts, but she was willing to play along.

As she debated the merits of staying in bed where it was warm and cozy versus getting up and starting her day, Crystal’s mind drifted to her best friend, Annie, and the huge argument they had two weeks before. The force and ugliness of the words that were exchanged still stung but Crystal felt a satisfying comfort as she basked in her righteousness. A friendship that began in college was most likely finished.

When the need for coffee won over the warmth of her bed, Crystal threw back her covers and shook her head, trying to clear it of the unpleasant memory. If Annie was so pigheaded that she adamantly dismissed the facts and figures of Crystal’s argument, then she wasn’t worth thinking about. Annie could continue on her stupid path, and Crystal would continue on hers. Screw her.

Later, as Crystal worked on her first mug of coffee, she opened her laptop to begin her morning ritual of perusing her favorite news sites. Even though she knew better, she hoped that—somehow magically—the world really had turned over a new leaf at midnight. What if, suddenly, the political discord stopped, Black lives really did start to matter, and people chose to listen to scientists over talk show hosts? Yeah, right. Her news feed looked very similar to the one from the day before. The only difference was the pictures of large, boisterous crowds ringing in the new year; unmasked and close together. Idiots.

As much as she tried not too, Crystal thought once again about her blow-up with Annie. The harsh words they said to each other couldn’t be taken back or forgotten. It was clear that Annie wasn’t the person Crystal thought she was, so maybe it was best to part ways. How could she continue to be friends with someone so obstinate?

They both had kept pretty close to home since the original lockdown in March. Each had made occasional trips to the grocery store and pharmacy, but their interactions with friends and family were only by phone, text, or Zoom. Crystal had missed seeing her friend in person, but they agreed that it was for the best—not only for their safety but, the sooner this thing was over, the sooner they could resume their lives. Crystal knew this was especially hard on Annie because she had a granddaughter that she ached to be with.

Their blow-up happened mid-December when Annie let it slip that she was planning to spend Christmas with her son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter.

“How could you do something so stupid?” Crystal asked incredulously. “You’ve sacrificed for so long and now you want to throw it all away?”

“But I need to see them,” Annie replied. “All three of them have been isolated for a week so we are pretty sure everyone is safe.”

“PRETTY SURE? What if they aren’t? What if one of them is asymptomatic? What if you get sick and end up in a hospital, alone and on a ventilator? Are you pretty sure you’ll survive?”

That was the most civil part of their argument. From there, it devolved into heated accusations, personal insults and, finally, tears. When Crystal and Annie ended their phone call, their parting words held no hope of reconciliation. Crystal spent the next two weeks nursing her anger and disappointment. How could she have been so wrong about someone she thought she knew so well?

Stop thinking about it! Crystal admonished herself. Her ex-friend was stupid, selfish, and definitely not worth her time. She had plenty of other friends to hang with when this was over.

Crystal forced herself to re-focus on the New Year news. Among the stories of continuing virus surges, political fighting, and vaccine distribution challenges, a local story caught her eye. A young boy was in the hospital clinging to life. Covid, of course, Crystal thought. But, as she continued to read, she realized it wasn’t the virus, at least not directly. The boy had attempted suicide. According to his grief-stricken parents, the months of isolation, during which he wasn’t able to be with his friends or extended family, had made him depressed. Although he was expected to survive, his parents were distraught, knowing they had to continue to keep him away from others because of underlying health conditions.

Crystal was surprised at the sudden, overwhelming sadness she felt for this family she didn’t even know. She also thought about her own solitude, that of her parents’ who lived two states away, and Annie’s desire to see her granddaughter. On this first day of a new year, at the beginning of a new decade, Crystal thought about the kindness and empathy everyone was hoping for and realized that it could start with her.

After two rings, her friend answered, “Hello?”

“Annie, this is Crystal. I am so, so sorry. Please forgive me.”

Author: Janis @ RetirementallyChallenged.com

My blog is about travel, relationships, photography, and whatever else pops into my head (even, sometimes, issues surrounding retirement and aging).

93 thoughts on “Be the Change”

  1. This is such a beautiful story, Janis. I know that it will deeply resonate with all readers — it certainly did for me.
    In our isolation, frustration and surround-sound mixed messages, it is easy to judge others and stubbornly cling to our own assertions (or at least our assertions of the moment). Kindness, understanding and positive change do begin with us. We each have the power to tilt the world toward peace. Thank you for reminding us of this!

    1. I’m glad you liked my story. I have to admit that I have had to bite my tongue quite a bit throughout this craziness (sometimes I forget to bite my tongue and I actually say something 🙂 ). I am saddened when I hear of lost friendships due to mutual stubbornness. We don’t have to agree in order to understand.

  2. This story is so true! Great writing! I hear all shades of this sadness on a hotline I volunteer with; we each need to imagine walking in another’s shoes or we will not get through 2021 any better.

    1. I really admire you for volunteering on a hotline. That must take an incredible amount of personal strength and empathy. I think if we all could commit to dialing way back on our assumptions about each other, the world would be a kinder, happier place. Thank you for your comment!

  3. Hi Janis. What a SMART lesson on forgiveness 😉 and definitely one I need to remember. I’ll admit that I often jump to judgement but fortunately have the good sense to just bite my tongue (most of the time.) When I think about it I realize that we are all doing the best we can with our circumstances–and yes they are usually very different. May 2021 be a year when we all do our best to forgive and forget and share compassion. ~Kathy

    P.S. Nice awards!

    1. I’m not always the best at turning off my judgey reaction but I try to understand that I don’t need to agree with everything someone does. I like your hope for 2021! Oh, and I also really like those awards (thanks to Donna for helping me add them to my sidebar).

  4. This is so beautifully written Janis & I suspect there are many of us who see some of themselves in both Annie & Crystal. Thank you for sharing💕

  5. This was such a beautiful story, Janis–and so relatable. Crystal’s ultimate empathy was a wonderful reminder of Ram Dass’ assertion that “we’re all just walking each other home.” If only we could remember that more often. Thanks for sharing this as we open a new year with hope.

  6. Beautifully written Janis. I can relate to the characters and cringe at my own behavior at times. This year will be a good one for me to flex my empathy muscles. Hope to read more stories from you this year!

  7. Ever since your short story series I’ve been trying to wrap my head around the Covid concept story I formed. I really should try and just write it.
    Well done Janis. That story resonates with all of us I am sure.

  8. Beautiful story! I’ve been away a while but seems this isn’t your first short story – I’ll need to look for the others. These are tough times with so much misinformation and misunderstanding – we could all benefit from some compassion.

  9. Excellent writing and a story we all need to hear. This has been one of the most challenging times we’ve all lived through and people have a wide variety of responses. My husband and I chose to not travel to SC this winter as did at least 50% of those we know. But, the other 50% did travel and are there making choices accordingly. Different strokes for different folks I guess. 🙂

    1. We found ourselves trying to make the best decision between options (usually “stay” or “go”) many times over the year. We’ve almost always come down on the side of 100% safety. I know we’ve missed a few opportunities, but we are satisfied that we did what was right for us. I try not to be too judgey about what other people decide, unless it’s crazy and completely irresponsible… then I roll my eyes very loudly 🙂 .

  10. I admit this story brought me to the edge of tears. While this story is a piece of fiction, you just know that it’s being played out in many households. It’s become a very fine line between concern for someone’s wellbeing and being judge-y …. notwithstanding blatant acts of stupidity of course.

    You hit another home run with this story, Janis. You’ve tapped into the conflicting set of emotions we are all feeling right now and reminded us of how high the stakes are- both physically and mentally ❤️

    1. Thank you, Joanne. Your emotional reaction is high praise, indeed. There have been many fine lines throughout the year and most of us have done our best to navigate them. Sadly, there have also been way too many blatant acts of stupidity too. We both live in hot spots and have managed to stay healthy so I think we’ve done well.

  11. Janis, nicely done. The act of reconciliation need not wait on who feels most affronted. It takes two to have a communication problem. It just needs to start like you noted with a phone call or encounter. Thanks, Keith

  12. “Later, as Crystal worked on her first mug of coffee…”
    Of course, that got my attention – very relatable!
    Seriously, well-crafted with a message: Fiction reflective of the times often is a better vehicle to offer problem/solution to an audience than news/opinion formats.
    Go for it, Janis!

  13. Oh, wonderful story, Janis. One I actually lived through with my own family actually. I’m glad she picked up the phone. This pandemic has certainly created a lot of challenges. Happiest of New Years to you! Janet

  14. Forgiveness is an act that’s sometimes difficult. Your story brings out all the positive and negative feelings we’ve had about dealing with the virus. We all have to make our own decisions. Have a great year, Janis!

  15. What a wonderful story, Janis, with such a powerful message. Perfect for these times and a story I can also relate to. 2020 was an eye-opener to learn how people we know and love think so differently, both family and friends. I’ve struggled with this and it’s been mind-boggling. I have had to hold my tongue at times, too. Wishing you a brighter New Year!

    1. Thank you! It really has been a lesson in how our differences shape our responses. What one might think is common sense, others think is absolute insanity. It does make me wonder how certain relationships will fare once this is over (fingers crossed that it will be… soon). We are asking a lot of 2021, but I’m optimistic also. Happy New Year to you!

  16. Beautifully written story Janis with a message that so many of us can relate to. Very timely indeed. We were amazed when we were in Chicago at the different responses, opinions, attitudes. I just decided to accept that everyone had their reasons for approaching things in their own way and that I would do the same and not let others judgement bother me. It worked.

    Peta

    1. That sounds very sensible, Peta. I try not to judge (at least out loud 🙂 ) but I do know there are people that I avoid because of their lackadaisical response to the pandemic: do what you want, but I may not want you in my air space. I’m so enjoying your journeys in Mexico and am happy to know that you and Ben are keeping safe.

  17. I enjoyed this Janis just as I enjoyed last year’s short story series you wrote. It has been such a difficult nine months and it will not be like before for a long time, if ever. Since I have no family, I had/have no reason to be restricted from visiting anyone, I worked from home already and really no one visits except routine maintenance by service techs. So, much of my life remained status quo … just the worry of mixing and mingling with people in public places which does prey on my mind. Last Spring I had an argument with a friend I’ve known for 20 years, but never met. We “met” each other when our law firms merged – she has moved on from that job. She lives in Virginia. We’ve spoken on the phone many times, e-mailed nearly daily all these years. I never discuss politics since I am Canadian, and, though I’ve lived here since 1966, I have not become an American citizen and thus cannot vote. But I gave my opinion on what was going on with the pandemic and how the federal government was handling the distribution of PPE (or lack thereof) to our state and had my hand slapped and was asked to retract the statement. I am not a child and I said “it is my opinion – we all have opinions” … I was given a second chance to retract my statement, I did not and she said “it’s been nice knowing you.” I am not upset in the least because I believe that you should be able to speak your mind. I did not shout my feelings to the world, nor am I a rabble-rouser. She is the same age as you/me.

    1. I’m so sorry that your friend reacted so harshly to you stating an opinion (and, really more than on opinion since the facts back it up). I think all that has gone on over the last year has revealed aspects of ourselves and others that may not have been apparent before.

      I agree that things won’t change completely, even after the vaccine is more available. Some may try to resume their lives as if nothing happened, but I think those who are more mindful will realize that maybe the old “normal” wasn’t the best we can do as a society. I hope we can find the way to do better.

      1. Yes, it was quite harsh and our Governor has been quite outspoken about the treatment she received back in March and April. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer actually was one of “Time Magazine’s” person of the year nominees. So people know about her and I stressed that the fact that she was a woman, Democrat and had given the Response to the State of the Union address had caused the problem with the PPE – she was referred to as “that woman Governor” – this was documented, but my friend argued I was wrong. I am okay with this and yes, you are correct, some ugly feelings and hatred have come out as a result of this last year.

        I hope we will have learned something too Janis.

  18. I think it is great that you have picked up writing stories, Janis. This one must have originated with something you thought, read, or struggled with…

    I guess we have all thought the way Crystal did/does. It is easy to criticize others, especially for people like us, who don’t have children or grandchildren. I have also realized that I have loosened up about others not wearing masks outside. Some days, I can tolerate that behavior better than other days, though. And, we still wear masks around strangers, if we have to come within six feet of them.

    That being said, we have been able to celebrate the holidays in the middle of the desert with a bubble of six friends, which has been nice. Somehow, we all need to find a safe and healthy balance that puts nobody at risk…

    1. Finding balance is the key. We’ve made slight adjustments as we’ve moved through the year also. We still focus on safety but we also realize that human contact -beyond the phone and Zoom – is important. I think your six-person desert bubble sounds perfect!

  19. You are a good story writer, Janis! And I loved this story, because I think one of the worst aspects of this situation is how quickly began to judge each other (and we judged far too often even before the pandemic started). However we react to the pandemic and it’s lock-downs, all we are ever doing is “choosing the lesser evil.” But boy do we get mad when someone chooses differently from us! And how quickly we forget that they usually have a very good reason for their choice. Forgiveness and empathy are the only way forward, and this story illustrated that beautifully!

    1. Thank you, Ann, I’m so happy that you enjoyed my story! Yes, it’s hard to believe that anyone would make a choice different from our logical, well-reasoned position 🙂. I have had to adjust my attitude quite a bit over the past year. Although I still am horrified at those who blatantly go against the health and safety protocols, I understand that some relationships just have to be experienced in person.

  20. Janis, this is EXCELLENT! What a way to start a new writing year. You hit the nail on the head about how easy it is to judge the decisions of others without fully embracing the path they may be walking that we are just not in touch with. I can’t say enough good things about this story.

    1. Thank you so much! This is a lesson I’ve had to remember more than once this past year (and, I assume, I’ll have to continue into the new one). We like to think that our opinions and decisions are the best, but that’s not always the case. I’m pleased that you enjoyed my story.

      1. I’ve struggled with this as well. An introvert with extrovert friends? I’m always second guessing their behavior. I try to keep those thoughts to myself, but I’m sure I do too much eyerolling.

  21. Hi Janis, A very engaging story that resonates with me especially beginning a New Year. I am nodding my head, yes, on the morning routine and the ritual of perusing news sites. You also hit a nerve with who should we include in our bubble. And, all the thoughts ruminating and holding debates in our head.

    Okay, you did it, Janis. You made me cry. Good job!

      1. Okay, now you made me cry again, Janis 🤪Chuck and I were just having this discussion on our walk, when we could see the family again. Especially the grandchildren, since they change a great deal. We have done the Zoom thing all month, yet many people have not (“bending” the rules) There has been an uptick in cases, even on The Island. I realize I am talking to the choir here, and many significant challenges where you live. I still count my blessings, and reading your stories, Janis, is part of the good in my life 💕

  22. Janis – wow, nice job! You nailed the emotions and the need for empathy during this pandemic and beyond so well. Thanks for helping us all feel those emotions and the desire to reconcile. Happy New Year to you – you’re off to a great start with this story to lead the way to many more.

  23. This is so beautifully written and so timely. I think we’ll be encountering this issue more and more in the coming months. It’s still going to be quite some time before we’re on the other side of the pandemic, and it’s becoming more difficult for people to stay away from family and friends. I understand, but I wish people would just continue to social distance, mask, and help us get beyond this. Sigh. Since I can’t control other people and I don’t want to be mad all the time, I just practice letting go and staying far away from those who don’t behave.

    1. I’m definitely with you in the mask-up and distance group. I keep thinking how much different it would be today of everyone followed that simple safety protocol. I try to remind myself that I don’t need to agree with someone else’s choices (as long as they aren’t nuts) all the time. BUT, I do need to know what they are doing to keep themselves safe so I can decide whether the pole needs to be six feet or sixteen feet 🙂

  24. This may be a short fictional story but as others have noted, a sign of the times, Janis. I love how you ended the story on the note of forgiveness, a lesson we all need. I also noticed the laptop image is of the San Diego skyline from Shelter Island. Awesome 👌

    1. Haha, Terri, you would notice that! I have a friend of a friend who has a gorgeous home with that view. One day I brought my camera and took a ton of photos as the sun was setting and reflecting on the buildings. I’m happy you liked my story… and the ending.

  25. Thank you for sharing your short story, Janis. Not only is it a timely message, but I really enjoyed reading it. I hope we can all “be the change” in some small way. 2021 will only be better than 2020 if we make it so.

  26. I really enjoyed reading your story and getting to know you a bit better through your writing. Your blog and your support of mine has been an inspiration and has encouraged me through these months of isolation. I appreciate you and look forward to continuing our writing friendship. 2021 is going to be a good year!

  27. A story that rings true. Are you sure it is fiction? I love the idea of being a change agent for good. Quiet truths and kind actions. Ever onward I go, both in real life and in the blogosphere.

    1. Fortunately, I haven’t been put in that specific position, but I have bit my tongue a few times when people have said that they “needed” to see their friends and family even though it may not be safe. We all have to make our own decisions but we also need to be aware how those decisions impact ourselves, others, and our relationships. As I said before, Ally, I’m happy to see you back!

  28. Janis, this is pretty close to what happened to me back in April when we first went into ‘stay-at-home mode’, except that my friend (relatively new to my life) was needlessly blatant and selfish with her actions. It wasn’t easy, but after evaluating the circumstances, I let the relationship go. I don’t expect my friends to be perfect and always act responsibly, but I am glad I learned the truth about her character before I invested more time. Truth be told, I had already seen glimpses of incompatibility. Beautifully written story and a good reminder to forgive and take the high road.

    1. Thank you, Suzanne. Between the pandemic and the political chaos, many of us have been in the position of reevaluating certain relationships. These sorts of things do reveal a person’s character in ways – and more quickly – that we might not see when everything is “normal.” I’m sorry you had to let that friendship go but it sounds like it probably wouldn’t have lasted long anyway… character always comes out eventually.

  29. Wow, such a great illustration of what needs to happen. We often espouse grandiose ideas about changing the world and making the new year better, but what it comes down to are moments like this. Making a personal gesture, doing something hard or humbling that really makes a difference.

  30. What a beautifully written short story, Janis. I’m thrilled that you are continuing to explore fiction writing. Have you considered joining a writers’ group? One of my writers’ groups meets this week, and I’m looking forward to it. We always have great conversations about writing, and they are so supportive. I love hearing what they’re working on when they read from their work. Our meetings always inspire me to go to my computer and write.

    Jude

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