June 10th, 2019 was my first day working for the Commonwealth of Virginia. I, along with the rest of the cohort of Virginia Management Fellows, relocated to Richmond, entered our rotations with various state agencies, and began our careers with high hopes. A year later, we, like most everybody else on the planet, “celebrate” our anniversary in a different world.

I cannot lie; there have been multiple times where I have felt extremely discouraged. Meetings are spent accidentally talking on mute; simple grocery store trips have given me Hunger Game vibes; and live entertainment options have me choosing between late night shows FaceTime monologues or podcasters playing ping pong. It is obviously not the same, and sometimes I have gotten really down wondering if it all will “go back to normal” like people keep saying.

However as summer begins while in month four of this pandemic in America, I have realized how surface-level those concerns have been. My March, April, and May were spent worrying about the luxuries that are no longer at my fingertips, but at the end of the day, these concerns are nothing compared to what others are fighting for during this time.

There is real pain in the hearts of many families throughout the nation. Loved ones have gotten sick, people have lost jobs, and the wounds of racism continue to fester as our collective society finally attempts to listen to the voices of the impacted. As someone who has not had to endure the same struggles, I cannot be blinded by my minor inconveniences.

June has been a reckoning for me in this regard. My problems are not invalidated, but rather put into context with the problems of the community I live in. Before the pandemic, Richmond was a fun place where I could go eat, drink, and explore the sites with friends or family. Now I see it as what I should have seen it from the start one year ago: my home. Being a part of a community goes beyond enjoying the amenities. It means caring for the people around you, and more importantly listening to their struggles.

Now that the restaurants are open again, and the professional sports teams are starting back up to play at their glorified summer camps, my individual problems will begin to fade. However, if I really want to have a positive impact in my local community, and in the larger Virginian community as a public servant with VMF, it is important to realize that not everyone gets the same luxury. Societal problems will still exist, and I would embrace challenges rather than turn away.

I hope my experience is something most everyone can identify with. 2020 has been a rough year—we have all been impacted in some way, and it is okay to feel down sometimes about that. But now is time that we grasp that the struggles of others in our communities should be just as important, because the only way we get through difficult times is reaching out and helping each other.

If you take nothing else from my story. I hope you remember this: wear a mask even if it is itchy; read the news even if it is bleak; and listen to your neighbor—because they might be struggling too.

John Cronin is a Virginia Management Fellow, currently serving at the Virginia Department of Elections