I had a long discussion with an old friend 3,000 miles away, and we concluded that both of us have experienced positive changes in our lives in the past two weeks alone. We’re connecting with people on a personal, not professional, level, and living life more slowly and more simply—even if the impetus is unwelcome. We don’t feel the need to get everything done ten minutes ago, we can let non-critical tasks—and face it, that’s most everything—slide. Some may call that irresponsible, but I call it Freedom.
On the Big Picture side, it’s very, very clear that, worldwide, we’re all in this together, in all the ways that truly count. When Coronavirus started in China, half a world away, it seemed distant, disassociated news. As the disease spread to areas where we use the same alphabet, it became more real. Now, the pandemic is a big part of everyone’s lives, and the whole world is following the same basic guidelines. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s actually ’way overdue.
We’re reacquainting ourselves with the value of a physical—not just Facebook and Instagram—community, and find ourselves face-to-face with the old adage “You never know what you have ’til you’ve lost it.” I don’t know anyone who is not phoning friends more often than they were two weeks ago, just to check in and say Hi, how are you?
Shelter in place, school closures, working from home, etc., are all difficult adjustments, but for many families, they are at home together for the first time in years. Kids actually see that Mom and Dad work after they leave the house in the morning, and parents participate in their kids’ education to a degree (most of them) haven’t in years, if ever. Everyone sits down at the same table, and no one dashes off ASAP. If somebody feels like hanging out, it has to be with family.
I visited my mother daily for two months when she was hospitalized. One day I rode on the hospital elevator with a woman who loudly complained that “Visiting is such a drag,” and I vividly remember my rage at her shortsighted selfishness. Today, a friend’s sister is gravely ill in a hospital where no one is allowed to visit, and he’s heartbroken. His sister, undoubtedly frightened and lonely, may die alone, without the comfort of her children, her siblings or her own mother. It’s one of many messages telling us to take the time for others, now.
I was a chef and restaurateur for many years, and my view of food and service is at a 90-degree angle from the average patron. In those years, I lived in terror that the air conditioner, dish machine or linen delivery truck would break down and close us for a day. I feared a garbage strike, but not this—not closed doors. Sure, we can still get takeout—for now—but that only drives home the point that dining out or having a beer at a bar is not about the convenience of having someone else cook and do the dishes, but about hanging with other people, be they friends or strangers. Eating out means community and recreation, not inhaling calories; I miss it greatly already, and I bet you do, too.
Years ago, before Skype or videoconferencing, I had a boyfriend in Rockport, Texas. He’d FedEx me breakfast from my favorite Mexican restaurant, phone me, and we’d break fast together, or we’d call at night and watch the same movie on TV. It was cozy and better than nothing. His home, his business and most of Rockport was leveled when Hurricane Harvey made landfall there on August 27, 2017.
I was fortunate to have known Albert Ellis, the psychologist who developed Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), a philosophy that says, basically, that it’s not what happens to us that’s as important as how we view what happens to us, and how we deal with it. One of Al’s regular questions was, “On a scale of One to Ten, with Ten being nuclear holocaust, how important is it?” He’d probably classify today’s pandemic as a seven or so: Whole populations are not being wiped out; a cure is not just possible but likely; the Earth itself is not scorched, etc., etc. For the badly infected, the pandemic is catastrophic, but for most of us, it is an inconvenience or lost income. My friend’s sister would trade places with almost any one of us, in a heartbeat.
Here are a few of my new habits: I listen to the news at least once a day, but no more than twice a day. I listen to music radio, not “All Headlines, All the Time” radio, ditto TV. I read books. I take walks in places I haven’t been in years. When driving, I take the scenic route and drive slowly. When my dogs demand to be petted, I drop what I’m doing and play with them. I washed my car in my driveway, with a hose. I do a daily check around my home and note the progress of sprouting crocus, daffodils and weeds. Small household projects (sorting drawers, mending, hanging that birdhouse, fixing a chair, changing the fridge filters)—a few of which, I admit, have been on a countertop for years—are getting done, and it feels good, and, in the spirit of full disclosure, it feels a lot better than spending that same time politely responding to a stranger’s “To Whom It May Concern” plea for “a feature” on his pitchy song. How important is it? Al asked. Not more important than calling a friend.
I inherited my love of cartoons from my father, and I remember one drawing which helped shape my personal philosophy as an adult. Hung on a wall, framed, it depicted a cartoon wooden lifeboat full of people, and, in the distance, a large cartoon-y sinking ship. The caption read “Pray to God, but row toward shore.”
Good advice for life, and especially for life today. And remember this: If only one side of the boat rows, it will go around in circles forever. We’re in this world together, and not just now, but forever. Forever.