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  • Writer's pictureJer Sandel

Silver Linings from The Summer That Never Was

Updated: Jun 11, 2020

Mood of Autumn | Phonesnap by Jer Sandel

I wish you were reading this under better circumstances, but it is what it is. Several photography topics crossed my mind for my first full blog here in my new website, but none of them felt as compelling as this one. I simply have to get this off my chest before I could feel right in writing something else.

The recent months affected by the COVID-19 pandemic have been nothing short of surreal. Decades from now, we’ll look back at this moment and remember it as the time the earth stood still. Our lives went on a sudden detour that we had no better choice but to take. While I am the optimist kind and believe that everything happens for a reason, I also am careful of bordering on toxic positivity by undermining the damage that the virus outbreak did to humanity. Too many loved ones were lost, multitude of events and businesses shuttered, and countless dreams were shattered or – in the best-case scenario - put on hold (I sincerely pray it’s the latter). It was horrible. There’s no sense in sugarcoating it.

But in everything we go through– wins, losses, or even break-evens – we come to lessons and realizations. And here are what I could derive from what I consider as “the summer that never was” :

What matters most. The pandemic and the eventual lockdown forced us into safety. I’m sure at some point in our isolated existence, we came to recognize the fact that we are thankful to be alive and we are fortunate to have what matters most : food, family, and the safe haven of home. All of us had to take a step back from our daily grind and focus on our blessings. When the dust cleared, it turns out that we actually have all we need. And nothing else matters as much.

What matters more. After basic necessities, we also come to appreciate relationships and things that we sometimes take for granted, or we often grumble about. How many of us wished we had a better-paying or more enjoyable job? Anyone here who has never complained about your internet connection? Are you more thankful now for your friends, or neighbors, colleagues and churchmates, or your car, and maybe even all those premium you’ve been paying for insurance? With them, life just feels better. With them, we go beyond merely surviving.

Time is always forward. I am a big fan of the “Back To The Future” film franchise and other movies of the same premise : time-travel. However, I have long accepted the fact that they’re classified as science fiction because they are fiction. We’ll never go back in time... and time will never go back for us. We should probably keep that in mind in the way we live, now more than ever. All the things we’ve squandered, all those opportunities we’ve passed up because we thought they would come again… well, some of them won’t. And some of them will hurt. For the simple reason that we can never tell what tomorrow will bring, let’s put more courage than caution when weighing whether to say yes or no to an opportunity. The regret of not trying hurts more than the regret of failure. Let’s always make the most of the present rather than worrying too much about the future.

Just Another Tree Silhouette | Phonesnap by Jer Sandel

The bigger picture. Some, if not most, welcomed the call to stay home as a necessary measure to contain the spread of COVID-19. Others – while recognizing the lockdown’s purpose – viewed it as a problem : how are they going to feed their family and afford their needs if they couldn’t go outside to earn? Different reactions but the same intention : survival. There’s always more than one side in a situation. We should always look at the bigger picture. Thus the need for empathy and kindness. Amid the bitter divide (especially on social media) regarding the government’s response to the pandemic, I take solace from the thought that various companies, groups, and individuals have been very active in extending assistance to those in need. Teamwork at its finest, in life’s greatest stage and with the highest stakes. It’s the bigger picture that I would like to keep looking at.

The 3 Rs : Reconnect, Rediscover, Reset. Suddenly, with the lockdown, we had all the time in the world. This unplanned break has given us freedom and enough reason to do things that our pre-pandemic routine didn’t allow us to do. We’ve had our fair share of catching up with family and friends who we haven’t talked to in a long time, or going back to pursuits or hobbies that we almost forgot about. Then there are the new skills and unlocked talent that we never thought we had in us, exactly the type of activities that we otherwise won’t have the opportunity to try or develop back then. The situation has also made a lot of us reflect about our lives, including going back to the drawing board and assessing our options moving forward. The pandemic has been a pause, escape, and reset button all in one.

Mindset makes a difference. Like most (if not all) of you, I had a slew of plans and projects that I wanted to get done by the time the lockdown was lifted. Guess what? I haven’t finished even half of them. There were times when I would be so stoked and burning with determination. More often than not, though, it was a struggle to make progress and I couldn’t pinpoint the culprit. It’s probably a combination of many factors. Lack of urgency is one, as I know I have no real deadlines to meet, and who knows for sure when will the pandemic end? Motivation is another. Do these projects matter, when we’re all facing more important issues? Then there are the undeniable episodes of lethargy. Sometimes it feels like we’re helplessly in a holding pattern while our lives are on a standstill. The uncertainty that comes with the pandemic could hold us back, that’s for sure. And that is why we need to view things with a different perspective, no matter how cliché it sounds. Survival has always been about the ability to adapt. The sooner we snap out of the stupor, the earlier we could get to creating a new sense of normalcy. It all starts with our mindset.

Gloom Over Taal | Phonesnap by Jer Sandel

This is uncharted territory for all of us. We’ve never experienced something like this, especially on a global scale. Personally, I lost projects, workshops, camps, and a summer trip that could have produced a fresh set of images. Friends and colleagues in the photography world – especially those in the events coverage industry – all suffered cancellations and financial losses. Everyone was adversely affected, regardless of age, occupation, or social status. Absolutely no one was spared. And here’s the scarier part : we don’t know when it will get back to normal… or IF it will get back to the normal that we were accustomed to at all. But let’s keep in mind that life has never gone according to our perfect plans. It’s no different in photography. We could stuff all the gear we need, strategize and schedule, check the weather forecast, spend all that time and effort in traveling, only to have an unexpected downpour or gloomy clouds completely throw off our preparations. Some elements are beyond our control. We could pack and go home, or we could try harder and use our creativity to make the most of the situation.

In dealing with the pandemic, I believe it is important to look for silver linings. Just enough light to inspire us and make us realize that there’s always another way. Step-by-step, slowly but steadily, we will overcome. We might go from shooting bright and sunny skies to dark and dramatic landscapes. Or maybe a golden sunset turned into a spectacular lightning show. The situation may change but we could still pull off a beautiful ending.

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