I can’t shake her words. Living through what I know are just the beginning stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States is the strangest thing I’ve experienced, by a long shot. My kids are home from school. My husband is working from home. Our usually bustling calendar is totally cleared, for the foreseeable future.
With nowhere to go and plenty to worry about, it’s almost difficult to settle on one subject. Do I worry about my grandmother and my parents, or the people around me, or the viability of our investment property, of what could be a very shaky financial future, or my kids’ schooling, or my mental wellbeing? So many choices. So little ability to affect any change.
Here’s what I’ve noticed:
I have an unprecedented lack of control over my life and the wellbeing of the people in it. I can’t control whether my pantry or my fridge stay stocked; I can’t show up for people the way I usually do. I have little control over my day, as I am now a preschool, kindergarten, fourth grade and sixth grade teacher, and I am cooking more than ever. I can take precautions, but I can't ensure that my family stays well. I can’t control how my children process the news that has quickly changed their entire world any more than I can stop myself from worrying instead of sleeping through the night.
My inbox and newsfeed are inundated with aggressive daily schedules, lesson plans from our amazing teachers, supplemental games and resources online to help my kids continue to learn, choreography videos from our dance studio, free art classes, museum tours, Broadway shows, online concerts, scavenger hunt ideas, DIY challenges, and a myriad of suggestions for how we can “keep busy” while social distancing. And, while I greatly appreciate the generosity of organizations giving their valuable content away for free, the ingenuity of parents and their willingness to share their ideas, and the commitment of my friends to use this time to make headway into their home projects, I have to step back and say, “no thank you.” I know, I’m the girl who makes a daily schedule every summer, and I may do that again. But this feels different.
Right now, almost overnight, everything has been taken from our daily lives. The entertainment, the socializing, the excess, the work, the zipping about, being busy. It’s all gone in a moment, and if we’re really lucky, that’s all we’re going to lose. This is to speak nothing of those fighting illness or losing loved ones or who can’t afford to feed their kids, who usually eat at school, or of my friends who are losing businesses or who work as healthcare providers and put themselves and their families at risk each day for the good of others. And I think it’s worth wondering what the takeaway of this time ought to be. With our lives suddenly stripped of school, travel, activities, obligations and plans, why are we so eager to fill them back up again? What if there is something to be gained from all this? What if there might be a lesson in the stillness?
I got to see Chris Martin’s Together at Home concert from last week, and got caught up in the lyrics of the beautiful song “Us Against the World:”
“If we could float away, and fly up to the surface,
and just start again
and lift off before trouble
just erodes us in the rain,
just erodes us in the rain,
just erodes us, and see roses in the rain
And slow it down
Through chaos as it swirls,
it’s us against the world.”
I’m not trying to say I’m not afraid of going stir crazy: I am, and I can feel it already. I desperately crave time and space that is mine, and it is absolutely nowhere to be found. And I don't think I'm doing this the one right way; I’m definitely not trying to tell anyone how to live their lives. Maybe your days on a tight schedule are going great. Maybe that works best for your family, and if it does, that’s excellent. But if you’re trying to bend everyone to fit into a mold that makes you have control, but that doesn’t seem like it’s working, maybe it’s okay to resist the urge and try something different. Maybe it’s okay to linger over a later dinner, now that we get to eat together every night. Maybe it’s okay to lie on the couch reading one more chapter instead of getting lunch right at 12:00. Maybe it’s okay to let boredom compel my children to play imaginatively together, even if it wrecks my house.
Usually, at dinner, our family plays “High/Low,” where we talk about high and low points of our days. We are still making plenty of room to talk about our feelings, but tonight, intead, we played, “Tell Me Something Good.” Because I don’t need extra opportunities to talk about my worries right now; I need reminders of what is still here and good. That phrase that has haunted me since college and lives in big letters on my kitchen wall--Be Here Now--has maybe never applied more. I notice that, when I’m focused on what’s right in front of me, I am okay. I can see the beauty of my children learning, growing and playing in a way that I don’t usually have access to. I can appreciate the sun on my face, outside with my children in the middle of the day. I can enjoy this moment. But when I look around to see what everyone else is doing and how I measure up, when I check social media, when I read news articles too often, when I devote space to worrying, I start spiraling. I’m not mentally present for my kids, and I’m not my best self.
These days we are living through are unprecedented. I hope this is a once-in-a-lifetime event, and that our actions now might stifle it from hurting too many more. I feel deep sadness for all those families who have already been affected, and I do not mean to minimize the fear or anxiety that anyone might be feeling; I feel it too. But I am trying to choose to acknowledge my utter powerlessness. I am trying to find contentment and gratitude for what I have and where I am. I am trying to help the people I can. I am trying to create adventure and model peace for my children. I am trying to behave as if the God I always say I believe in is actually who I say he is. I am trying.
But the things I’m trying hardest at involve not doing or being anything extra, and they don’t leave much time for “filling my days.” I am looking for the lessons and the joy that might be found in doing less, in resting on my faith, in just being, together. However you are spending your days right now, I wish you health and peace; I wish you time with the ones you love, and I hope you can see the roses in the rain.