It’s been three months now, if not of lockdown then certainly some form of home-bound. Obviously, things are relaxing a bit – to varying degrees, depending upon one’s region and personal tolerance for risk. We’re in that long, penumbral state of in-between sheltering in place and feeling like it’s back to normal. My sense is this will continue for a few more months. Or ought to, if we are to be guided by public safety concerns.
How to say this without being naïve or blind to the pain that’s out there? The last few months, difficult as they have been, have also been an opportunity for learning, growth and personal exploration. I’m impressed by how often this theme comes up in my talks with friends, family and far-flung colleagues. Spending time at home, talking more, hanging out together, and taking walks. Phone calls with friends one might have drifted out of connection but who proved easy to reconnect with.
Not to underestimate the toll. I understand fully that for many families the last few months have been overwhelmingly stressful. The pain extracted by Covid-19 has cut deeply. Anxiety about possible infection. The anguish of families and friends accompanying the death of 105,000 Americans. The financial from massive unemployment and closed businesses. The impossible burden placed on health care workers thrust into a crisis doing heroic work without proper protective equipment.
There’s also the considerable financial toll endured, even by those who have work but only eke out a living or who depend upon piecemeal jobs and assignments. The complexity of dealing with school-age kids whose daily educational routine has been undercut and will likely remain so for many more months. The domestic toll on families, in many cases forced into uncomfortable degrees of intimacy without relief of friends or extended relations. And finally, the sheer, grinding toll exacted by solitude among so many – whether single people or those elderly forced to live behind closed doors in hopes of not getting infected.
All of which provides the cautionary backdrop to a sense that for all of this, the last few months – and the next few as well – provide moments of learning and new opportunities. Not that it has been a good thing, but that we have been required to make of it the best we can.
My own understanding has been encouraging in that so many have found forms of strength and renewal in areas that previously had gone unnoticed. I became aware of this when writing a kind of advice column for a trade magazine geared to – of all things – golf course superintendents. In it I reminded people to use the time constructively, by not trying to do everything normally at work and to leave time for what’s called “blank space” – unplanned, unscheduled time. Stop trying to proceed as normal at work and leave time for slack. Spend more time immersed with immediate family and former colleagues and mentors.
For me, the last three months have been surprisingly recuperative. My work used to entail a lot of travel – 120-150 days a year on the road. Hotels, airplanes, restaurants. The last three months are the longest I’ve been home in 30 years. It’s allowed my wife, Jane, and me to hang out, garden together, take long walks, binge watch TV shows and read the same books in succession. I’m sleeping more than ever, though not exactly regularly. But having spent all too many mornings at airports at 5 AM or at my desk at that hour writing, I’m now not averse to reading myself back to sleep and waking up at 10 AM.
We miss visiting our daughter and son-in-law and their kids – our grandkids. (Zoom sessions and virtual Bananagram only go so far.) It’s been extremely frustrating trying to deal with my mother in an assisted living facility in New York City while we try to negotiate her insurance and Medicaid issues. Not being able to make site visits for my normal work has taken a toll financially. And of course, my hair looks like hell.
We’ve tried to make the best use possible of our time. The backdrop of recurring crises on the TV has not been restful, so we ended up turning most of it off and not following the news assiduously. That gave us a lot of emotional release to be more selective in how we’ve used our newfound time. There’s a useful, practical side as well. Like clearing out sections of the yard that had lain under weeds and overgrowth. And now for the first time in years I can actually get to the far end of the garage and access all the stuff that’s been there. Amazing how liberating it is simply to throw junk out.
At the risk of getting touchy-feely, you might say that’s a metaphor for what’s been going on generally. Decluttering. Getting back to basics. Seeing what’s really important and simplifying life.
I can’t say I’d recommend all of this as the permanent basis of life. As a survival strategy and as an opportunity to make the best of a difficult situation, however, it has been liberating. My sense is that many more people than we have been hearing about from the media have learned and grown in the process.