On March 16th of 2020, I had a lunch meeting scheduled with a colleague. We had planned to go to Subway and eat, and then go to her office for a more formal meeting with a third person, but she was running late, so I grabbed the sandwiches to go and just brought them to her office.
I often said in the year that followed that what should have been my last meal in a restaurant for more than a year still ended up being take out. I haven’t relaxed in any public indoors space for almost two years now, and 900,000 Americans are dead.
There isn’t much more I can say about that. I mean, there is a lot more I want to say, but my saying it won’t make things easier, or better, or even make me feel better. In fact, it just makes me angry, and I’m trying not to do that these days.
But here we are.
The Buddhists tell us that our suffering comes from our attachment to a preconceived idea of how things ought to be. That tracks for me: I’m not mad I’m having many Zoom meetings every week – I’m mad because I think things ought to be the way they were this time in 2020 – when lunch with a colleague didn’t require D-Day levels of planning, when you could meet someone new and ask them out to lunch without wondering if they were science deniers or anti-vaccine folks. I believe it ought to be that way, and I’m frustrated that it is not.
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One thing I like about swimming is that I can’t do anything else while I’m swimming. I can’t listen to podcasts. I can’t check my email. I can’t listen to an audiobook. All I can do is swim. And think.
I had a Zoom meeting earlier today. One of dozens I have already had six weeks into this year, as we approach the 2-year anniversary of when the world shut down.
The first six weeks or so, back in March of 2020, was a blur. The hunt for toilet paper. Essential workers. Musicians performing from home. Worksheets sent home from school for The Boy, who was living with us at the time. Zoom lunches. Working out grocery delivery, teaching people how to Zoom. Figuring out how to do church.
If I’m honest, I enjoy a good crisis. I obviously don’t like that people are suffering, but in a crisis, priorities become clear, the haze and grey areas burn away, and it’s always clear what needs to be done next. In a not-crisis time, my ADHD muddled brain often has trouble with what should be done next, but a good crisis makes things clear.
Another thing I love about a crisis is that it moves things faster. Priorities become clear for others too, and so instead of having 27 meetings, we can get things done.
But the mundane, the everyday, the slog – that stresses me out. And now we have entered the stage of this thing where we are still in crisis, but it has become routine. Sure, thousands of people die every day from this virus, but here’s a late fee for your phone bill.
I was thinking about all of this today, while swimming up and back, up and back, up and back.
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I think this is just what we do now. This is just how life is. Each day feels like a Sisyphean challenge – dodge the virus, avoid people, try to stay connected, try to keep people you love safe, try to be as normal as possible while being reminded dozens of times a day that there is nothing normal about this at all.
Because normal is just another word for whatever you are used to, and I’ve exerted a lot of energy trying to not get used to this.
Like many of you, a whole lot of my time and energy these days is being spent trying to figure out how to live in this new reality. How to earn a living as a community builder when people are vectors of the virus and your family is immune-compromised. How to live with a brain that seeks variety when every damn day seems endless and repetitive. And trying to figure out, if this is what life is just like now, how to do it as well as you can, and in such a way as to bring hope to others as well.
I don’t have any answers. I am leaning in, though. I’m upgrading my office equipment – turning makeshift arrangements that have been cobbled together for the last 23 months into permanent features. I’m building new, virtual and distanced communities that didn’t exist before. I’m learning new skills that will be useful in whatever comes next. But mostly, I’m constantly trying to stay connected, to be creative, and to build a life in the midst of it all.