A Look Back at 2020: Finding Touch Trees

A sunrise during a morning walk in Orleans, MA

Anna Del Castillo (she/her/hers) is a Mississippian, Peruvian-Bolivian American, and faith-rooted activist for justice. She is pursuing a Master of Divinity as a Dean’s Fellow at Harvard Divinity School where she studies at the intersection of public policy, racial justice, and healing. She is also an Interfaith America Racial Equity Fellow

 

I wake up on this last day of the year 2020 with a peculiar feeling in my stomach. I am alone in my apartment. Harvard Square is surprisingly quiet.

In my solitude, I reflect on what has been one of the most sorrowful, destructive, and isolating years in human history. On this last day of the year 2020, I think of the 1.8 million lives lost to COVID-19. Our planet lost 1.8 million vibrant individuals this year to a deadly disease. Our country lost over 343,000 precious lives to an uncontrollable and unforeseen illness.

I light candles in the silence of my apartment on a gloomy Cambridge morning and I feel it all.

I lament.

I remember.

I mourn all that was lost-- the big griefs of loved ones who passed away as well as the small griefs, friends around the country whose warm embrace I long for, canceled trips and postponed ceremonies, a familiar lifestyle that drastically changed.

Sadness and fear are feelings that I run from. I run from them because I don’t trust myself to handle them well, so I distract myself with an overextended schedule and too many commitments. I’ve spent my adult life running from one thing to the next to avoid confronting the  darkness and uncertainty within myself. When the pandemic hit, a giant barricade disrupted my running track, and in mid-sprint, I was thrown to the ground. The distractions were removed, the hectic schedule was canceled, and I was forced to be still.

This year knitted darkness into my reality-- a heavy darkness that left me breathless, perplexed and frightened in my solitude. Despite how uncomfortable and foreign the darkness felt, I needed to be in it.

I needed to sit with feelings of sadness and fear. When I allowed myself to be still, I found that I was not alone. In a raging sea of uncertainty and fear, I reached my hands out for God.

God found me and I found God.

I found God in the faces of my siblings and parents during Sunday night family Zoom calls.

I found God in the sound of swaying trees on my daily walks along the Charles River.

I found God in the touch and embrace of my podmates as we laughed and cried over many late nights of take-out and wine.

I found God in health care workers whose sacrifices and bravery saved millions of lives.

I found God in farm workers and grocery clerks whose tireless work allowed me to nourish my body with food.

I found God in Nashville, TN as I listened to movement leaders proclaim the Black Lives Matter.

I found God in resistance as I marched with thousands of individuals as we called for racial justice and an end to police brutality.

I found God in my baby cousin Jack, whose laughter and innocence fills me with profound joy and hope for the future of this planet.

I found God in moments of silence and stillness.

I found God in uncertainty.

I found God in a resilient, beautiful, joyous them.

I found God in a resilient, beautiful, joyous me. 

 

Barricade in place, the sprinter rests. 2020 granted me the gift of stillness, and in that stillness I learned a great deal about myself and nurtured areas that needed healing. I learned to trust myself because I am resilient.

I recently read Glennon Doyle’s bestselling book, Untamed. I highly recommend this book. Read it. Gift it to someone. Read it again. It’s full of encouraging stories that help readers connect to their inner knowing. One story in particular stuck out to me. The story is of a survivorman lost in the woods. The survivorman survives by finding a Touch Tree. Doyle writes,

“A Touch Tree is one recognizable, strong, large tree that becomes the lost one’s home base. She can adventure out into the woods as long as she returns to her Touch Tree-- again and again. This perpetual returning will keep her from getting too far gone.” (Excerpt from Untamed)

This year of a global pandemic, political division, racial injustice, and environmental catastrophes taught me to become my own Touch Tree. I became my own grounded anchor that I return to over and over again when I am lost. I learned that I am enough.

A tree rooted in ancient earth, nourished by the soil of a community that loves me deeply, the wisdom of ancestors who watch over me, the love of a God who never leaves me-- I return to my Touch Tree in those moments of fear and uncertainty. This cultivation of courage and trust is a result of this year of hardships. 2020 taught so many of us about resilience, the importance of collective care, and deep gratitude. May we carry these lessons with us into 2021. May we sit in immense appreciation for life-- for the air that fills our lungs and the loved ones around us. May 2021 be an invitation to reimagine and pursue the better world that is possible. May we continue to build forests of bold, beautiful, fearless Touch Trees.

 

In my Harvard Square apartment where I’ve spent most of this pandemic period

#Interfaith is a self-paced, online learning opportunity designed to equip a new generation of leaders with the awareness and skills to promote interfaith cooperation online. The curriculum is free to Interfaith America readers; please use the scholarship code #Interfaith100. #Interfaith is presented by IFYC in collaboration with ReligionAndPublicLife.org.

 

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The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.