For those of us who are privileged enough to be financially stable and relatively healthy, it’s been twelve months of radical change, loss and boredom. Looking back, it’s been both the saddest year and one of the most revealing. I appreciate the things I used to take for granted: going to concerts, bars, museums and plays. Going to the airport and hopping on a plane. Hugging friends and family.
I hope that my appreciation for these things never goes away. It reminds me of lyrics from a Joni Mitchell song, “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone?”
Looking ahead, I wonder if I will continue to be grateful, as life returns to normal. Remember 9/11? How, for a while, the whole country seemed to come together? I lived in LA during the Northridge Earthquake of 1994 – the epicenter was 5 miles from my apartment – and, after the quake, our whole neighborhood loved each other to the max: helping each other, hugging each other, comforting each other, for a while anyway. Eventually, we all went back to our regular routine.
Do we really want to go back to our regular routine?
Before COVID, like everyone else, I was very busy: working full-time, writing two books (one non-fiction, one fiction) and leading an active social life. I was rarely home: I wanted to get a pet but wasn’t home enough to be a good pet caretaker. I took a lot of weekend road trips and – several times a year – flew somewhere I’d never been, rented a car and explored. I went to the theatre and concerts, met friends for meals (friends and good food go well together) and assumed that my life would go on, pretty much the same, in the future.
About a year ago, my friend Marie called COVID “The Great Pause”. She, a wise woman in her late seventies, said “it’s a great opportunity to see who you really are without all the distractions of your life”.
She died in January.
Whenever I was tempted to grouse and complain about Life During COVID, I thought of “The Great Pause”. Looking back, I notice how I used distractions in my life to avoid going deeper with myself and others. I rationalized it, telling myself: “I work so hard, I deserve ‘rewards’ (like food, clothes, nice things, vacations)”. I thought my life was well-balanced between alone time and social time. When social time went from 50% to 5%, it was quite a shift. What did I want to do with all this alone time?
I started to find out.
I went through a phase where I was angry and rebellious: “Goddamned COVID! It’s really messed up my life. I can’t wait until it’s over!” Then came the: “How am I going to make peace with this?” phase. This was much more constructive than just being pissed off and resistant. I began to find ways to enjoy my own company and was surprised that I was seldom lonely. I talked to friends on the phone and saw my “pod” group once a week. And I did my work. I began to find it more fulfilling than ever: I loved the connections with my clients. I think I became a better therapist. With fewer visual clues (a result of tele-health), I became more tuned in to my clients, noticing nuances that I may have missed before.
And I started doing more activities alone: going for walks, eating out, taking drives in the countryside…
Looking ahead, I want to keep doing these things. I admit that I’m happy to welcome distractions and entertainment back into my life, but I want to find a better balance. Looking back, I see things that I really don’t need any more that I can let go of. Looking ahead, I see where I want to go next.
The Great Pause indeed.