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What to Leave Behind from 2020

What's funny about life is how our mind and judgment can change through the years; how circumstances that once seemed so decisive and inflexible now flow and change momentarily like melting snow in twisting streams down the side of the hill. As we cautiously try to emerge from this COVID year, so many aspects of our life run parallel to the twisting stream.

As a nation, we are living a new paradigm. A world in which the possibility of “surviving the pandemic” is not a blockbuster movie title but our reality, a fact—almost an entity in its own right.

And people seem different. Yes. There are scars and rug burns from enduring such massive change so abruptly. But if you look closely, our garments aren’t torn. We are not broken. We are just a little tattered around the edges like that favorite pair of jeans you just can’t give away. In my personal life, the twists and turns of the last two years were hard and severe. The changes and losses more analogous to an earthquake splitting the ground with unrelenting force than a stream carving its path down a hill. But I am still here, tattered edges and all.

And, the question becomes, “What can be gained from this journey?” Or better yet, “What can we take away from this destruction?” What can I teach my children, my patients, and my team?

The logical side of me knows you can’t repair an earthquake with a band-aid or a bow. The rebuild is slow and steady: no quick fix, no easy answers.

But what if our purpose, our path, is to create a sturdier foundation less likely to crack and collapse when disaster strikes? Discovering the power that comes from controlling our reactions to adverse and unforeseen circumstances and trusting that even in tragedy, we can be okay. To express gratitude, daily, for those we love and those we have lost. And to recognize unexpected events as opportunities, like spending the extra 30 minutes with a scared child before their first filling or intently listening to a young woman with persistent TMJ pain unable to find answers for the last five years.

The shock of my mom’s ALS diagnosis, the abrupt end to my 20-year marriage, and the death of my mom 30 short months later left me tattered and raw. But it also left me more open-minded than ever before. The younger, less experienced version of myself felt so strongly about so many things: what to wear, how to act, the right and the wrongs of everyday life. The me that arose from the ashes is freer and more open, more understanding and less judgmental. Our new world can be the same.

Together, we can harness this momentum and value life, especially when it seems to be on the upswing—never forgetting how it felt to be isolated from one another and choosing to give a little more GRACE, each and every day. This new me understands that behind the masks and the smiles, you may find another tattered soul who really needs it.

Dr. Stephanie Vondrak is board certified by the American Academy of Craniofacial Dental Sleep Medicine to treat patients suffering from sleep apnea with sleep apnea appliances.

IMPACT! with Stephanie Vondrak, D.D.S.