Photo by Roseanna Smith on Unsplash

By Bernadette Quist

They say that you can’t have your cake and eat it too. What if you have cake, and it looks good one minute, but then it becomes a smushed wreck the next? If you eat it, how will it taste?

Can we relight the candles on that cake? I’ll bet that, like me, you know people who look amazing in person (and on Facebook). These folks have well-decorated, even gourmet cakes. Pre-pandemic, we never saw any cracks, flaws, or crumbs! Yet, you may learn that the imperfect stuff was kept politely secret, even within families. Now, with the coronavirus, we feel even more distant and isolated. But do we have to be?

Though it’s clear that some people have been more affected than others, the pandemic has had a way of leveling some things out. We’re all experiencing an unexpected and prolonged trauma together, and these cracks can slowly allow us to share what’s underneath the emotional masks we may have donned to keep our pain under wraps.  

As someone who grew up in a loving family, there was a point in my life where the personal trauma of multiple miscarriages and life changes piled on all at once, and yet acknowledging how it was affecting my own “cupcake” was unthinkable. Strong, smart, independent people don’t let cracks like that show… until they do.

My experience led me to groups of perfect strangers who also looked pretty “together,” but they had suffered loss too. I eventually learned more from them than from loved ones in my own day-to-day world. In letting myself feel and process, I found that allowing myself to be vulnerable led to strength. The coronavirus has taught me even more. Only recently, during this time of forced reflection, did I think about a simple parenting lesson that I’ve begun to apply to myself.

If my child — or any child for that matter — fell on the sidewalk and skinned his or her knee, what would I do about such a little scratch, a minor injury? Would I ease their tears by saying things like ‘Buck up,’ ‘Get over it,’ or ‘It’s your own fault’? Or worse, would I walk away and just leave them to fend for themselves? Would that child push me away if I went to them and put an arm around their shoulder? Would they lash out if I offered to help them up, wash that knee off, and put a Band-Aid on? Once up and healed, would I see that child wallow in self-pity or try to hang the whole thing over my head, making me the villain?

What are we adults doing to ourselves and others with our “skinned knees” and masked faces?

A wise person who I used to see often, pre-corona, said something that stays with me: “My pain is sacred.” What the heck? Wisdom for pain? Is that the price you pay, or a gift you’re given? Sometimes you can learn a lot from a perfect stranger or a loved one whose pain rolled downhill and on to you. It’s true; pain can be sacred, especially when respectfully shared with others who have experienced their own. The coronavirus can have the same affect, depending on how we approach it.

When my babies turned one year old, I repeated a family tradition with them on their special day. A beautiful cupcake was presented to them with a little candle on top. After singing and blowing it out, the paper wrapper was removed and the little one, having developed no skill with utensils, went to town, squishing and munching away. Everyone smiled and laughed, because we knew that a cupcake tastes just as good, whether whole or smushed!

Maybe this pandemic is our own collective cupcake-smushing opportunity. You can’t trust everyone with how you’ve worked through tasting and digesting that stuff in your life that just didn’t go right (or that still may not be going right). Find someone you can trust and share those crumbs! It may be that imperfect-looking morsel of sweetness that can help both of you find something to celebrate.

Bernadette Quist

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