Thus far, we’ve been incredibly fortunate to be able to see family and friends in the relative safety of the great outdoors, but now with the cold creeping in and the dark evenings, our social engagements are becoming even more limited so I’m bracing myself. Emotionally hunkering down. Gearing up for going nowhere.
Looks like it’s just us, now.
I still try to go running. I have my job which gets me out of the house a couple days a week. I have a phone that I use to call up my mother and chat. I go on walks with my sister-in-law and girlfriends, and by myself.
Still, I can feel myself beginning to slump. There’s a heaviness tugging at me.
Maybe I should just go on antidepressants for the next year or so, I say to my husband.
Actually, what I say is “for the next ten years.” Might as well knock out the misery of the pandemic, menopause, and the switch to an empty nest all in one fell swoop.
The other day in the car, I caught snatches of a report on the 1918 pandemic: people ages 20-40 were, surprisingly, the ones most likely to die . . . the economic hardships were enormous since there weren’t any social services in place . . . the flu took out lots of people who were already weakened by tuberculosis . . . afterward, a wave of depression swept the country.
The show’s guest said something else that stuck with me. In regards to a health crisis, we in the United States vacillate between panic and complacency. For years we’ve known what we need to do in order to prepare for a global health crisis, but we haven’t done it. Now we’re panicked, and once this is over, we’ll probably return to complacency because that’s what we do.
The guest sounded angry. And tired.
Any good news? The host asked hopefully. There was a pause, and then:
Humans are survivors. Many of us have died, and many of us who are here now will not be here when this is over, but we are survivors.
The race will go on.
As 2020 ends, I find myself thinking back.
I think back to March when we were advised against wearing masks and am appalled.
I think back to January when I first began hearing rumors of a new virus that was being discovered in China. Oh, it’s nothing, I’d said. They’ve had other viruses over there and they didn’t effect us any. The news industry just needs something to report. It’ll be fine.
It’s hard to believe that once upon a time that’s what I thought.
Out on a walk, I entertain myself by posing a question: If I’d get COVID, which lingering side effect would I rather have — loss of taste or ongoing respiratory problems?
One person I know is still struggling, nine months after first getting sick, with debilitating respiratory issues. Another person has lost her sense of taste. For her, food is important, so to lose her sense of taste (and then have it return only to disappear yet again) leaves her in a distressing state of uncertainty.
To no longer be able to move about energetically — to go for runs or pound up the stairs to my bedroom or steam through a grocery store — would be horrible. And to no longer taste — peanut butter! lemony broccoli! sourdough! spicy sausages! coffee, coffee! — is a loss I can’t even imagine.
After mulling the question over, I finally give up, still undecided. Both choices are terrible.
That I could die is something I don’t even consider.
Every time the weather gets even a hint of warm, I get squirrely. Gotta go for a walk. Gotta call friends. Gotta have someone over. Gotta go somewhere. If I don’t use the brief little window of opportunity to socialize and exercise, I feel guilty.
So a couple weeks ago when the entire weekend forecast was for sunshine and warm temps, I announced a family hike. And then I invited friends, because what better way to visit than while tromping for hours through the woods?
After an hour or so, we had to decide whether or not to do a small loop or a large. We’re already out here, I said, all vim and vigor. Might as well go all out.
And so we hiked. And hiked and hiked and hiked, through muddy trails and up rocky mountains (when choosing the eleven-mile loop, we neglected to consider the topography, oops) and over boulders and across streams.
That night, I feel asleep fast and slept hard. It was marvelous — the best kind of tired ever.
I love our traditional stay-at-home Christmases: stockings for the kids, cookies for breakfast, my husband’s ham, puzzles and games.
But that at-homeness is fun specifically because it is sandwiched between a whole lotta church, family gatherings, and parties. Now that it’s us all of the time, it feels like Christmas will be just more of the same.
We don’t really have good ideas to make it special — and, quite frankly, I’m not sure I even want “specialness substitutes” because anything we do will just accentuate what’s missing — but we’re trying. Here’s what we’ve come up with.
Books: I did some research and then checked out a bunch of good read-alouds from the library. My goal is to read out loud about three times a day — we are gonna plow through the books.
No studies: I canceled the kids’ studies, though I am increasing their assigned readings, and there will still be history lessons with my husband, and maybe science and typing lessons with the grandparents. But no spelling and math!
Documentaries: My husband suggested we watch documentaries, so now I need to do some research to find a bunch of good ones to add to my queue.
Relaxing: I want to set up a puzzle and drink more tea. Card games, maybe.
Soup: I’m craving soups — the kinds that are brothy and loaded with leafy greens — so I’m gonna make us some.
Outings: There may be a couple small day road trips, and perhaps another hike or two.
House projects: I’d like to find an area rug for the sitting area. We need to send off the Cutco knives to get sharpened. Little things like that.
These are small pleasures, and even though the persistant piercing sadness sometimes makes it hard to appreciate them and keep my equilibrium, they’ll be enough.
They have to be.
These days, instead of reading the serious books and watching the hard movies — the things I routinely try to do to educate and better myself — I’m choosing easy material, the heartwarming and familiar and funny. So what am I reading? Juvenile fiction, I kid you not. (Also, The Warmth of Other Suns because I already started it.)
The other night the girls and I finished Schitt’s Creek. I cried, of course. Reaching the end of an incredibly wonderful show is so bittersweet. But all is not lost! I’m on season four with my husband — he’s getting into it, whoop! — and so I get to watch it all again, with him. (By myself I’m watching The Crown. With the family, The Great British Baking Show. And recent family night movies include Prom and The Sound of Metal.)
Two nights in a row last week, I fell asleep at eight o’clock, the warmth of the fire so deeply relaxing that I felt like my whole body had fused to the sofa. One day I stayed in my pajamas all day long.
Mornings it’s so windy and bitter cold that I simply can’t bear the thought of going running, I don’t. Because maybe what I need is a cozy, dark morning inside the house with slippers and coffee and candles, and that’s okay.
To get through these long, dark, cold winter months, what I want — what I need — is lightness and laughter and comfort. Once the daylight and warmth return, then I’ll push myself again.
For now, though, I go easy.