This virus is changing us. We start our conversations with, “How are you?” and we mean it. We start our emails with, “I hope you are well,” and we mean it.
We are being reminded of what matters and what is less important. Even though some are hoarding toilet paper, toilet paper is not important.
The hoarding comes from a desire to feel safe, to feel protected. But we can never hoard enough to feel safe enough. The safe must come from within.
This virus is making us ask, “Who do I want to be?”
Do I want to be a person who, when passing a stranger on a sidewalk, smiles from a safe distance and offers visible encouragement? Or do I want to be a person who drops their head and turns away?
Do I want to rush through frequent handwashing as a necessary nuisance? Or do I want to engage with it as an act of kindness toward myself and others?
Do I want to blame my government for our lack of an integrated and fact-based response to a pandemic, or do I want to turn the mirror on myself and assess where I have been like my government?
Am I willing to see where I have chosen to spend on new, bright and shiny rather than make investments in mundane infrastructure—the ripped lampshade that I merely turned toward the wall, the filter in my furnace, the legal needs of my exit from this planet (which I hope and expect to be a few decades from now)?
I want to do a better job tending my field.
This refreshed perspective started for me in January. I now have a Will, and a Living Will, and two Healthcare Power of Attorneys (one primary, one contingent). I have an executor and he has my Funeral Directives (which request something other than a funeral) and my Letter of Intention.
The Letter of Intention directs the distribution of my personal effects. It also directs that no one can come through my home to see what they might like to have. I wrote the Letter thoughtfully and tearfully. I’m proud of it. The attorney asked if he could describe it for others, as a model of what could be done.
My friends tell me they’ve been doing more cleaning, deep cleaning, the cleaning that doesn’t ordinarily happen. Me, too.
One of the things that got cleaned was my box of mementos. I didn’t even know what was in it.
There was a letter from my high school friend Steven, describing a Monopoly game where we authored the Chance and Community Chest cards (e.g., “Go to jail, but receive $500 advance on resulting novel and speaking engagements.” “Receive $43 for making Audrey laugh.”)
There was a 1973 calendar drawn by my best friend Lee, showing our friends doing every month what we had done the year before.
It made me feel closer to her, this friend who died when she was twenty-five. It made me appreciate the friends I have now.
There was a letter from my aunt Tasha. She explained the history of my grandparents’ marriage:
“Laura [my grandmother] was engaged to marry a wonderful man who was a geologist I believe and he was sent to South America and they were going to get married when he came back to Clarkson. Well, he stopped writing and Laura waited and waited until her father suggested she marry his young Czech clerk in his bank and she dutifully did so. Well, just before the wedding her old fiancé came back. He had been sick for months with malaria in a part of the jungle where there was no mail service. Why didn’t she cancel the wedding? Well in those days pleasing parents was much more important than pleasing yourself.”
My grandmother was killed when the car my grandfather was driving was hit by a train. The car was stopped on the tracks. As the train approached, he stayed in the car and she got out. When the train struck their car, the car pivoted, pulling my grandfather from harm’s way and pushing my grandmother into it.
Tasha wrote about it:
“What a terribly sad time. I felt like I was in a daze. Of course the anger towards Joe [my grandfather] was palpable. I do feel there was something karmic about this. Laura had chosen a kind of self imposed martyrdom for her life which she bore with grace and good humor and somehow it wasn’t in the script that she could free herself of this in this lifetime. However, her life and death have deeply affected all of us. It was after Laura died that Earth [Tasha’s sister, who gave herself a new name] said she made the decision that she was going to have to leave Ronnie though she had four kids to take care of and no real job skills. She told me that she realized she might end up like Laura, living and dying without ever really feeling free to do her own thing.”
Just as my grandmother’s death caused my aunt to reassess her life, this virus is providing a similar opportunity. It has put us in our homes, it has forced us to slow down, it has made us take a closer look at our lives.
Some lives the virus will take.
And some lives will make new decisions about how to live.
Here are some things that are helping me feel better…
A government official who talks openly, honestly, factually, and with vulnerability about the coronavirus: Andrew Cuomo, Governor of New York.
A helpful exercise from a wise woman who is well acquainted with fear: Elizabeth Gilbert, on InsightTimer.
Also on InsightTimer, a morning meditation with a man with a lovely Australian accent, to get my head in a good place before I even get out of bed.
Virtual wine before dinner with friends, using a free Zoom account.
Long walks outside and lots of pictures with a dog who loves Spring.
Chewing the Cud of Good
Thankful that Spring is not stopped or even hindered by a virus.