Looking back at old photographs, I found a tattered, wrinkled picture that had hung above my bed in my freshman dorm in college. My heart stirred as I encountered anew what was once one of my favorite images and one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite books.
“Here is my secret, a very simple secret. It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” Le Petit Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Holding the picture in my hands, focusing on it with heart more than eyes, I felt pulled back in time. After 36 years — two lifetimes for that younger version of me — it was as if I were sitting right beside her. That determined yet naive young woman had absolutely no inkling that one day essential would become not something you could merely experience, but rather something you, quite literally, could be.
In pandemic talk, I am an essential worker. More accurately, I am the owner of an essential business. I have kept the childcare center and preschool I own and operate in Tarrytown, NY, open throughout the pandemic.
Reaching our March milestone, a full year since COVID-19 changed our lives, I’ve been thinking quite a lot about what it means to be essential. For me, it comes down to two central ideas.
1. We are Not Alone
We are dependent for our lives and well-being on many essentials, some who we know and many who we will never know. Our existence is part of an interconnected web of individuals, offering what they can and making an impact beyond what they will ever fully know. This understanding of my dependence on so many others fills me with humility and gratitude.
2. We Can Choose To Love
We are all essential when we choose to love. This is perhaps the primary message I take with me from this year of challenge.
Love is multifaceted and different for each of us. It can, but need not, include a romantic or life partner. It extends to family, friends, and individuals in our community. For many parents, it focuses on our children.
Being essential through love does not mean that those we love cannot exist without us. That is a truth palpable to me, as the parent of a 21- and a 25-year-old. My children are both launching their own lives, independent of me. We want those we love to thrive, with and without us.
Being essential means we choose, time and time again, to be present for those we love. We also welcome those we love to be present for us.
As I reach this milestone, a year of being essential, I choose to define what essential means —not only professionally but also personally. I choose to love, widely and unapologetically. I love my family and also others I welcome into my life. It often isn’t easy. The stresses we have all been under result in tension, misunderstanding, and pain. I frequently lose my way. Yet, I regroup and keep trying, allowing myself to be humble, vulnerable, and present.
I remember “my secret, a very simple secret. It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” I remember to see the world rightly, with heart. I choose to love.