Ultimate Mannequin Challenge

I woke up and realized it had been more than two months since we entered the second lockdown here in the UK. (For those of you who don’t know, it’s been a strict lockdown where not only non-essential shops are closed but we’re required to remain in our homes, leaving only for a limited time to exercise, alone or with our household, or to shop for medicine and food.) My first thought was: Damn that was fast! After all, we had been busy moving into a new house, preparing for the holidays, which in a blur came and went, and settling into our routines. I noticed a faint pressure in my chest, but I didn’t think much of it, so I got out of bed and continued with my day.

After lunch, I watched a Youtube show I forgot I had subscribed to, Ofyr (pronounced oh-fire): a cooking demonstration channel for people who own one of their outdoor grills. This episode happened to be recorded in Stockholm, a city I lived in for over five years. Watching the chef cook Gothenburg’s prized langoustines on the hot metal ring, the old town’s silhouette behind him, I escaped for a moment to take in the crisp Swedish air and smell the fresh brackish waters of Lake Mälaren. A fleeting yet lovely respite and travel back in time to life pre-Covid-19.

I’ve been living in London for two years – the first half settling in and taking care of the required bits of moving to a new country, the second under some version of lock down. There’s a world to explore out there, and I can’t help but feel I’m frozen in a Mannequin Challenge.

It’s been okay though. I’m rather proud at how I’ve managed myself and my loved ones throughout this pandemic, keeping our locked-down lives as positive and productive under the circumstances. (Not sure I could say the same if I had little ones to homeschool. Hats off if that’s you.) I decided that even though I’m in a freeze frame I would enjoy this unique time to self-reflect, focus on health and family (here and distant), and plug away at work, steaming ahead with confidence we’d soon unfreeze and resume a more normal life outside these four walls.

In the afternoon, I joined a zoom yoga class. The instructor, an Australian friend from our Stockholm days, began practice with a question: What does connection mean to you?

We were to take time, sitting cross-legged with our eyes closed, to think about this, to see what surfaced. What I saw behind my black lids were images of people and places that are seared to my heart. As I watched the reel play, my heart tugged and ripped to fold into itself. I used my breath to move through the pain and to acknowledge its existence, until I could return to contemplate the question. Again my head filled with memories that felt warm like the glowing sun these grey skies have hidden.

I sat with the pain, breathing it in and out of my body. Accepting it as loss, as the heartache that comes with missing friends and family. I could feel my heart swell with gratitude for what I hope soon to reconnect with, the simple things in life shared with family and friends: enjoying a long walk along a wooded path; sharing a cup of coffee and diving deep into meaningful conversation; cooking a meal together and lingering at the table hours into the night; the hearty laugh-tears and side-rocking bear hugs that come with a shared laugh or cry; celebrating traditions; volunteering; being trusted with a personal story; the awe of first-shared experiences discovering art, food, wine, a new park, village, or distant city. These are the things that make me feel connected, experiences I look forward to living again. They are the yang to my yin, the yin to my yang. What roots me to the soil and my place on this earth.

The end of the challenge is near. Vaccines are being administered, and there’s a real push to unpause life. In June we will move back to the US and begin another chapter, repatriating after eight years abroad. In the meantime, I will try and savor this experience as much as I can, living in the moment (frozen or not) and ever grateful that no matter where I may be, I’m connected to what matters most.

I’m curious to hear your thoughts. What does connection mean to you?

Thank you for sharing and for listening.



“Only through our connectedness to others can we really know and enhance the self. And only through working on the self can we begin to enhance our connectedness to others.”

– Harriet Lerner
River Thames, Chiswick – Photo Courtesy of Craig Johnson

Published by

Nancy Roldán Johnson

Author of La Mariposa: An Empowerment Program for Adolescent Latinas, Co-Founder of Together for Latinas, Inc., Co-Chair of the One Circle Foundation

3 thoughts on “Ultimate Mannequin Challenge”

  1. Nancy,
    Wow, your words have touched me. You have captured exactly what it has been like to lockdown and move in our new worlds. Harding ourselves, keeping us shielded from what we miss and desire most and creating a “new” comfortable living space. Learning to adjust our need for connection.
    Connection comes from shared experiences regardless of how we have to share them. If it is virtual, written or if we are fortunate, in person. Humans are social beings, we need one another. If Covid has taught us anything hopefully it will be that. We need each other, we need to find ways to bond and not divide, we need to live in peace with one another.
    Like you, I connect best through conversation, laughter, tears, embraces. Finding ways to satisfy these needs has been a challenge but not an impossibility.(the physical embracing remains a challenge)
    Yes, there is hope on the horizon. The vaccine gives us all the ability to dream, plan for the days when we are back to “normal.” I just hope we don’t forget the lessons we have learned this past year. To love ourselves, family, friends, foes and most of all our planet. We need to be better stewards while we inhabit this earth. If we aren’t we will find ourselves in lockdown once again. We can and must take the positives of this time and be better humans.
    Congratulations on your return to the US. Your treasured years living abroad will forever live in your heart. You are now truly a citizen of the world. You and your family are now shaped differently. Your eyes and hearts are open, you will experience life at “home” with newness.
    Be safe, well and please continue to share your words. You have a gift my friend.

    1. Dear Meg,

      Thank you for your well wishes and thoughts on connection, especially to one another and this precious earth. It was wonderful to witness the emergence of nature’s beauty during the first lockdown, like Mother Nature came out from hiding and finally exhaled. We do, unfortunately, have a limited time to change our ways before the breaking point, when the irreversible damage we let happen will cause us to live a permanent version of survival lockdown. It doesn’t take much, just each of us doing a little more or a little less, to make a collective difference now.

      “Humans are social beings, we need one another. If Covid has taught us anything hopefully it will be that.” Well said. And together we can focus on bigger challenges and change the course of our climate challenge.

      I was looking for a word to guide my year and I think yours sparked “Respect” for me. Respect for what others are going through, for their time, their opinions, their stories. Respect and the choices I consciously make that impact my body, my mind, my heart. Respect for the planet, for nature.

      Thank you for your insight, friend. This exchange is a meaningful connection for me. xo
      With Love,

      1. Thank you, it has been very meaningful. I love the idea of focusing on a word to guide us. Respect is a perfect choice.

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