We are all weary from the bad “it” has created, encapsulating us in isolation, spreading illness and claiming death. Yes, the COVID undertow pulls us out daily and it seems easier to ride in on the negativity wave. But in the midst of our pandemic, have you tried looking for the good from “it?” Perhaps we need to buckle up our life vest, swim harder and shift our mindset.
Our outlook is a choice we make each day. So this day I’ve decided to look beyond the frequently overwhelming bad to focus on the good of “it.” Sitting on my front porch, I can focus on things more easily. From my corner wicker chair, life has become a bit of a spectator’s sport; here’s what I’ve witnessed over the past six months.
Seeing the good. My question to you is: Have you used this pause to see the good? I mean really “see” it? The kind of witnessing that a researcher would experience or ethnographer would chronicle, not just watching the daily news feed go by in an incomprehensible blur. Your ability to see is part of humanity’s chance to do a hard pivot on so many things, including our values.
The joy of cancellation. When life’s daily obligation’s with coworkers, friends, family and colleagues abruptly got cancelled by “it,” we found ourselves temporarily suspended in time. The once inked-in events, fundraisers, concerts, meetings, trips and life’s daily churn screeched to a halt in mid March. And we were all left wondering how and when life would resume. Busyness was erased as easily as a maintenance person’s nightly cleaning of a whiteboard. Disappeared. At first “it” caused disappointment – vacations cancelled, schedules interrupted, appointments postponed “until further notice.” Uncertainty debuted and dug in its’ heels. For many, uncertainty has been overwhelming, but in reflection it became freeing. For me, finding the joy in all that has been cancelled has been a quest. Each of us has been “knighted” by “it” to look and act beyond what was to what could be.
Helping others. The immediate human reaction to imminent threat is twofold: keeping our loved ones and ourselves safe, and then helping others. After securing our home spaces, many of us wrote checks to non-profits and joined in local efforts to acknowledge front line and essential workers. Others not in the “at risk” categories have found ways through volunteering to do our part: helping out at food banks, running errands for the elderly, and doing thoughtful turns for neighbors. “It” felt good and right and I found myself wondering what took me so long to meet my neighbors’ needs up close. We need to keep helping others to see and experience more of the good.
New ways to socialize. Humans crave different levels of socialization. For introverts, staying home has not been such a burden, but for the social butterflies, it has clipped our wings. We’ve had to be creative in maintaining friendships and in growing new ones. Checking in on family, friends and neighbors has taken on a whole new meaning. Whether phone calls, video meetings, porch sits or keeping our physical distance, we’ve all created a routine within our “COVID circle.” Building this new routine has helped us all get through “it.” In fact, I’ve never seen folks so friendly, waving and shouting hellos in an effort to socially connect and fill up our voids.
Life looks inward. Too many times our individual needs fall last on the list: our thoughts, our health, our emotional and physical needs. It’s good to have this time to focus inwardly. The self-imposed busyness of our lives tends to leave our own well being low on the list of priorities. Suddenly, our well being was front and center. First phase: fear and anxiety. Next phase: lack of self-care. Third phase: self-improvement. Time away from our regular routines plays tricks on us individually during isolation, sometimes acting as a cruel teacher and other times as a blessing in disguise. Let’s focus on the latter and use “it” to motivate us to be better for ourselves and for those who love us.
Life at home. Never have we collectively spent more time at home for such an extended period of time. Family. Home. Yard. Our world suddenly shrunk. After an initial fixation with the news, (as happens during catastrophic events) we were left looking at our immediate surroundings with new eyes…stay at home eyes. And our surroundings soon began to bother us. The passage of time, a “stay home” order and life with COVID started working its’ black magic. People, fueled by pent up energy, anxiety and frustration, began cleaning up the corners of their lives that had previously been neglected “until tomorrow.” Tomorrow became today – yards now look the best they’ve ever looked, homes are being repaired and renovated, and people are finding joy (or other things) in tidying up the inside of their homes and getting things in order.
Noticing nature. A lack of commuting to work for those of us staying home means seeing what happens here when we are normally “at work.” Either from the comfort of our home or while enjoying outdoor time, it seems there is more wildlife outside our four walls than we’ve ever previously noticed. A variety of birds and mammals live among us once unseen and now are welcome distractions. Hummingbirds are now observed daily. Flowers that were there, but never fully appreciated are finally seen, cut and arranged in vases to enjoy. Gardens once untended are rediscovered. Yes, noticing nature is part of the good I see in “it.”
Outdoor escapes. My happy place has been the great outdoors for over five decades. And now, in the relative safety of fresh air and the outdoors, people have flocked in record numbers outdoors. My husband and I marvel at the droves of people filing by on our neighborhoods’ sidewalks: biking, walking, strolling, skateboarding and running. For some, it is their first time venturing on long walks, hiking through the woods, or visiting our local, state or national parks. Bike trails are crammed with novices and veterans alike all eager to shatter the sheltering routine, bust boredom and exert energy. Thoreau would be thrilled (or maybe appalled) with the throngs out enjoying nature. Now the challenge is to find times that the masses are not outdoors alongside me.
Work and learn from anywhere. I’ve long known work and learning can be productive from anyplace, anytime, but employers and schools needed convincing. The good in this pandemic is that excuses why not to allow virtual participation have been silenced. I’ve known for decades that some of my best work has taken place from home. But it took a pandemic for others to realize you can work or learn from home or anywhere, which is as disruptive as it is freeing. The effects of this adaptive hard pivot are chapters in books not yet written. The effects of “it” on our use of and thinking about physical space are long lasting and still unfolding. Don’t misunderstand me; I still value in-person the most. The lesson “it” taught us is that we now collectively know we can be physically apart and virtually still get things done.
Time to read and reflect. A couple of months ago I stopped binge watching TV and a few weeks ago I started reading again. First, “Little Fires Everywhere,” then “Where the Crawdads Sing.” Now another book is underway with one in the cue. Perhaps it is escapism, but through the busyness of life I’ve forgotten how much I love to read. Yes, reading is back on my list of priorities, where it should have been all along and the boob tube is turned to sparingly as a mindless respite.
Time to build. Time is a gift. And what we have is time on our hands. Maybe now is the time for the world’s innovators to get to work, to build and invite others to co-create our future. Simply waiting for “it” to pass is not an option and a waste of time. We are not going back to the same world. Bad leadership will fall. Marginal businesses will close and life will find a new way forward. But the new that is being built has a different feel to it. And we wonder what community will look like once “it” passes. Yes, as cliché as it is; only time will tell. So reclaim yours today.
Hope for the future. Yes, the fatigue beast has crept into our lives and we all long for the return of normal. But “it” isn’t going away anytime soon. What we do have control over is our attitude – seeing the good or only the bad. Hope is part of the powerful prescription needed until we are all vaccinated. Hope just doesn’t appear one day; it is channeled and fashioned every day. Now is the time to call a friend, to set up a physically distant porch visit, to surprise a shut-in with flowers or to move forward with building that new idea. You are responsible for helping hope find its way.
Be the ripple. We are living a 2020 live stream version of David versus Goliath and some days I’m not so sure who is winning. Unless you have a front row seat to the virus in your personal circle, “it” seems surreal – like watching a movie, maybe “Groundhog Day” where we are all stuck on repeat. Or maybe we’re starring in our own version of “The Truman Show,” where everyone is home watching everyone else, but nobody knows really what’s going on, whom the star is and what will happen if we break out of the bubble. We all need to tune our personal antennas to what our neighbors’ needs are. Our outlook can be contagious and impacts those around us in ways we may never know. There is a silver lining if you look for the good in “it.” We need a wave of positivity about now and you can help create the next ripples.