Annalise and I went to see a matinee of Call of the Wild in the theater because it had Harrison Ford in it. That was March 6. Everything was just beginning to close down, though nothing had been announced officially yet. We had not only our theater to ourselves, we were nearly the only non-employees in the whole cinema. Later that day, the governor would announce school closures for the state.
That seems like a long time ago now. I mean, a different period of my life long. Trying to wrap our heads around the passage of time is one of our current challenges.
Last night, our teenage daughter and her cousins* had Prom on our back porch. They dressed to the nines and danced and had punch and snacks. The dogs got excited about the whole event and started wrestling each other on one side of the dance floor; my wife said they took the place of those guys who always went out to the parking lot to fight. This event may have been our family’s best “making do” thus far. I wasn’t invited, so I made myself scarce. Apparently I’m not a teenager, however I might behave.
A friend asked recently what I’m doing to be okay right now. I’ve been looking at flowers more carefully. I’m taking the time, not just to “stop and smell the flowers,” but to take them in, study them, wonder at their symmetry and color and texture. I’m trying to let their wonder seep into me.
I’m walking a ton. I am socially-distanced solo walking for miles. And miles. Plus walking the dogs. Annalise bought me a Fit Bit in January, when she took a trip out to see my family. I promptly misplaced it, due to my organizational challenges. I remember telling my mom at one point, “Counting my walking steps isn’t really my mode of exercise.” Then we began quarantine. No ultimate. No basketball. Can’t hike with friends. I found my Fit Bit again. I now kick myself when I wake up and stroll around the house without putting it on. “You’re wasting steps!” Okay, I’m exaggerating. But I do feel like its continuous cheering messages–“Only 149 steps away!” “Hooray! You made your 250 steps for the hour!” “Congratulations! You hit your 10,000 step goal!” “You overachiever! You took 4,000 extra steps!”–have become my main source of affirmation right now.**
Having folks explain to me that “people with depression are struggling more with this situation” feels a little like having them explain to mermaids that life without water is dry. Yes, it’s dry for all of us, but for some of us it’s especially dry, and thank you for letting me know.
While I’m making comparisons, the debate between “people need to stay home so they don’t catch COVID-19” and “people need to work so they can earn money” strikes me as a debate between those who say, “People need to breathe!” and the ones who insist “People need to eat!” Right. And right. And also, if we’re not able to breathe, eating isn’t going to do us any good. And vice-versa. Forgive me while I indulge in sarcasm for one (more) moment: Perhaps if we shout louder that we need to eat, that will cancel out our need to breathe? So here we are, trying to figure out how to go forward killing fewer people, ruining fewer lives. It’s cold math.
None of this is easy. When it started, we all joked about how we could help save the world by staying home and bingeing Netflix. Those of us staying home, I mean. The divide between we who can help best by staying put to help flatten the curve and those who get to/have to keep working feels enormous now. I read their stories every day, nurses and paramedics, doctors and chaplains, grocers and nannies. They’re living a different existence than we are. I’m grateful for them and want to cheer them on and honor their sacrifice. But it also feels awful, especially for those who fear for their lives. I don’t want any sacrificial lambs getting slaughtered on my behalf.*** I’m especially sad for those who are underpaid and still considered “essential.” That’s a horrible contradiction, isn’t it?
I have hoped that we can come together as a people who are suffering a common affliction, working together and helping one another to get through this. That would be a tremendous redemption of this horror. I see many people helping others. I get lots of good news, people extending generosity and proactively looking for ways to love their neighbors. We are doing it!
Yet politically, we’re also more divided than ever. I’m inexpressibly saddened by this. I feel helpless and impotent in the face of so much suffering, nearly all of it beyond my control. I know I’m depressed in part because I’m refusing to release control–my illusion of control–over things completely beyond my power. One “secret” of contentment, perhaps one of the worst-kept secrets yet one that eludes many of us, is “Lord, grant me the strength to change the things I can, the serenity to accept the things I cannot, and the wisdom to know the difference.” I’m overwhelmed by the misery so many are suffering and I know, in response, I am louder and more insistent about how we got here and keep getting ourselves in deeper. I try to evaluate myself. It reminds me of culture shock: I know it’s affecting me, but I can’t tell exactly how and merely knowing doesn’t mean I can correct it. I can only try to be more aware that my reactions may be off and try to keep a closer eye on them. To put it mildly, I’m not certain everyone is self-evaluating in this manner.
This morning, I served Kim breakfast in bed. She is working harder than I’ve ever seen her work before, between learning to provide distance learning for kindergartners and working on her national boards. I’m not telling you this for anyone to praise me, far less to get anyone in trouble–“Hey! Why don’t you do that?” In truth, it had been a long time. I mention it because I am looking for ways to be the me I can be, within these strange constraints. Corin and I have a one-on-one Catan series going (because no one else in this household will play with us) and I have finally drawn even after he demolished me the first couple games. I’m connecting with old friends on phone and even Zoom. During my walks, I breathe more consciously, deeply, with intention (not so much when I’m with the dogs). I pray for the people I know who I’m afraid will die from COVID-19. I pray for our country. I pray for us.
*We’ve functioned as one household with them throughout the shelter in place because we functioned the same way before this
**In fact, I’m looking into something comparable that I can also wear on wrist and that will affirm me in other parts of my life: “You just washed a dish!” “Only ten more dishes and you will have cleaned the kitchen!”
***Not wading into Christology here, obviously. Jesus chose to atone for my sins. Different conversation.