I will be very interested to see how many of my colleagues, friends and family end up making a radical change to their established way of life after the pandemic. How many will step off the hamster wheel into a more humane and natural pace? How many will do something as simple as work from home a few days a week? How many may end their primary relationship, or realize they want a new one? Some may move to a whole new place, cut their career short, go back to school, take up new endeavors. I imagine a lot of people will have a slow recovery and have real problems “revving back up” on demand.
As to our daily practices, I think a lot of us are feeling torn between heroic uses of our downtime: Take out the front lawn! Learn to read piano music. Exercise each morning. Clean out the house. Grow your own food. Meditate daily. Knit your own socks. And the other end of the spectrum: Give yourself a break. Take it easy. Don’t worry about being strong or resilient or even productive. Just get through the day. And if that means pajamas and binge-watching, accompanied by chips and ice cream, so be it.
Part of the tension between “being productive” and “taking a well-deserved break” comes from the uncomfortable fact that we have to be closely attuned to how we are feeling in order to make our ongoing decisions. And the high-wire balance of constantly noticing our feelings with so much sadness and fear floating around leaves us in danger of free-falling. So we either run back to busy-busy or collapse on the couch, but in neither place do we wish to deeply contemplate how we are feeling while we are feeling so poorly. We may awkwardly avoid ourselves the way we would avoid a needy and broken ex-partner, because it is just too painful to face the feelings.
This does not even take into consideration the very real struggles that so many people are facing on the ground. Loss of their jobs. Loss of their housing. Loss of their health or even their life. Not being able to care for their loved ones. Not being able to keep their loved ones safe. With such a collective weight of sadness, I can only imagine how heavily it falls upon the many who are literally fighting for their lives and their future. Those who have to work in unsafe conditions without adequate protection. Who don’t even have the “I was doing okay” life to contemplate going back to. The list goes on and is overwhelming. It is exhausting. It is scary and sad, and yet there is a budding sense of tentative hope, at least in my city’s air, as we discover that not so many of us are eager to rush back onto the same hamster wheel and run, run, run.
As time goes on, whether we hibernate or supercharge our lives for now, whether we long for what we lost, or hope for something better, the day of reckoning will come when we each configure our post-COVID (or ongoing pandemic) lives. When we make the choices that will ripple into our futures. Only one thing is certain: we will not go back in time and pick up where we left off. That status quo has blown up in our faces and we will have to rebuild on many levels, not just economically. Just as the saying goes that you cannot step into the same river twice, because the river is changing, we too are changed by having stepped into the river. Here’s hoping that we may emerge with more compassion and strength. That our spotty and fragile downtime contemplation of how we wish to transform our lives may turn into broader lasting changes. And as we come back together after our lengthy solitude, that we can work together to create stronger, gentler, more humane and ultimately healthier communities.