We Were at Our Very Best

Conversations with Katie | December 22, 2020

President & CEO Katie Smith Sloan looks back on 2020, when things were at their worst but we were at our very best.

The 1984 film, Starman, tells the quirky story of an alien, played by Jeff Bridges, who comes to Earth, takes on a human body, and then races against time to meet up with the spaceship that will take him back home.

The film can be a little silly. But it contains several lines, uttered by Bridges’ extraterrestrial character, that are definitely worth remembering.

One line, in particular, resonates with me at the end of 2020.

“You are a strange species, not like any other,” Starman replies when a sympathetic scientist asks why people from other worlds are so interested in Earthlings.

Starman continues:

“Shall I tell you what I find beautiful about you? You are at your very best when things are worst.”

To me, that’s the perfect way to sum up our pandemic year.

This is the 20th blog post I’ve written for LeadingAge members since the pandemic arrived on our doorstep in March. After looking back over those blog posts this week, I realized that they offer a revealing diary of our past year together—and they corroborate Starman’s generous appraisal of humanity.

Indeed, 2020 has been the worst year we have experienced together. And, true to Starman’s analysis, all of us—especially LeadingAge and its members—have been at our very best through it all. Four examples of this truth stood out for me as I reviewed this year’s blog posts.

On March 31, when we were still trying to wrap our minds around the dreadful implications of the pandemic, I referred to what was then becoming known as the “rolling apex” of COVID-19 cases spreading in distinct waves across the country. That rolling apex, which began in New York, created a palpable sense of dread in states waiting for their inevitable spike in COVID-19 cases. But I was hopeful that, as the virus spread geographically, so too would the lessons that early hotspots could teach us about battling this scourge.

LeadingAge and its members did learn a great deal as the virus spread and, true to form, we shared that knowledge with one another for the good of all. I’m proud to say that LeadingAge led that sharing through our coronavirus web page, our daily COVID-19 email updates, our member calls, and our Member Community COVID-19 group.

We were at our very best when things were worst.

On April 14, I congratulated LeadingAge members for taking steps to keep residents and clients safe by implementing rules and practices they would ordinarily view as draconian—prohibiting visitors, locking activity areas, closing dining rooms, and canceling events. Members were sad to be “unraveling” community rather than building it. But now we know this was the right thing—and the courageous thing—to do.

We were at our very best when things were worst.

On May 26, I pondered the top-3 changes, brought on by COVID-19, that I thought would remain with us as we moved through and beyond the pandemic. A renewed focus on infection control and workforce were at the top of my list. But I also predicted the permanent transformation of team members who rose to the occasion and met the challenges of our “new normal” with incredible energy, determination, and grace.

Activity directors offered a great example of this. They have outdone themselves during the pandemic, by engaging deeply with residents, easing their loneliness, connecting them with family members, and journeying with those who, sadly, became sick or died. I predicted that their roles in our organizations would change forever because they were there for us when we needed them the most.

We were at our very best when things were worst.

And finally, on Nov. 15, I described how LeadingAge members came together at our Annual Meeting Virtual Experience to face the trauma—and talk about the pain—we had experienced this year. Those gatherings were incredibly moving and healing. I felt a strong sense that, despite our physical distance over the prior 8 months, we’d been united in our fear, frustration, and grief.

I also felt a sense of triumph among members. Yes, we went through hell this year—we are still going through hell as the virus surges around the country. But we showed up every day, we did our jobs, we fought the good fight for older adults. We did good work that mattered. And the world is better for it.

We were at our very best when things were worst.