Why We Need to Resume Life

A photo of empty tables and chairs in a restaurant setting. Used under Creative Commons.

I find it funny when I think about coming back from a relaxing holiday vacation. Funny in a not-so-funny way. I had such fantastic plans for 2020. Then, my first day back into the new year, I discovered that the company for which I work was acquired. I’m still trying to navigate the results of that. Then we discovered the downfall of only owning one vehicle when that vehicle was involved in an accident and had a transmission failure, back to back. I spent a good deal of the end of January and early February dealing with the logistics of that while still dealing with the fallout from the acquisition. Things were beginning to settle, though, as we left on a trip to assist my parents during a scheduled surgery. And then, just as I was looking forward to returning to our normal life in mid-March….well, you know the rest. One little virus, and the world broke.

2020, momentous as it begins a new decade, has stopped being the sort of year in which you achieve anything, and is becoming the sort of year that you just survive.

Now, as life begins to slowly re-open, I’m looking forward to returning to some sense of normal, even while forgetting that I’ve lived this fully remote life before. I’m seeing all sorts of positive things come from the extra time that I now have in my week with no commute, while still groaning about my first world problems…delayed haircuts, complications in getting coffee. There’s a cognitive dissonance here, but it arises from a restlessness, and a sadness as I watch others’ lives and livelihoods implode around me.

I suppose that this post might break with my rule against writing about politics, but, hey…extraordinary times, and all that. The propaganda machine is in high gear. I’m absolutely exhausted from constantly hearing some variation on the theme of “stay home, stay safe.” I’m particularly frustrated with how this is equated with “staying inside,” allowing popular opinion and convenient science to outweigh common sense in favor of corporate-driven interests. Despite the fact that fresh air and sunlight have been proven by, you guessed it, science, to combat illnesses such as this pandemic, such things are pushed aside with claims of lack of data. After all, pharmaceuticals can’t make money from fresh air and sunshine. It’s interesting how objective science, normally deified, becomes disposable when you don’t agree with its conclusions.

For the record, just in case you hadn’t guessed, I think Sweden has it right.

My issue is this at its simplest: we’re not safe. We can’t be safe. There is simply no such state, nor has there ever been. Grasping for this is nothing more than selfishness…”everyone do this extreme thing so that I won’t have a bad outcome.” At the end of the day, all of our steps to mitigate this pandemic are security theatre, just like airports after the attacks of 9/11. The nonsense at airports, though, has stayed with us, has been woven into our culture as the subject of jokes and as a general expectation. And that’s what scares me about this, because we can’t live six feet apart forever. As a people, we will die. We will go insane.

We already are.

The predictions and half-baked data modeling only serve to solidify this expectation. The emotional and psychological damage that we’re doing to each other is already incalculable. Humans die without contact, without touch.

So, when I see photos of people crowding into parks in beautiful weather, I don’t gasp and have the rage response that the rest of Twitter does. I see hope. Hope that we are willing to just push through this, hope that many see that life is going to go on, regardless, and that it’s better to be with each other as it does. I don’t want to waste week after week – time that we will never get back – cowering at home in fear, clinging to such an illusory concept as safety. A life arrested isn’t life. Its existence, at best, and at worst a prolonged death, a slow burn. It’s a death of the spirit, and that stands to be the larger casualty of this pandemic.

Just like the other casualties, though, we can minimize it, if we decide that we want to do so. But we have to do so by living. We can’t accept anything less.

Image attribution: Kevin Spencer under Creative Commons.

Waiting

My stainless steel coffee press, with reflections of my journal and Bible.

I’m slightly obsessive about my coffee.

Over the course of our marriage, Karen, along with a close friend, have inspired me to perfect the process. I’ve used various methods of making my morning jolt of caffeine (and occasional afternoon aftershocks), some used by preference, and others by necessity. Even though it’s far from the best-tasting coffee, there have been periods in my life in which I’ve had to regularly be up really early…for work, for rehearsals or performances, for travel. I used to keep a drip brew machine that was programmable during these times. I would grind the coffee the night before and set it up, and when I woke at 0’dark-thirty, the coffee would be waiting for me. I viewed this as survival, what had to be done to get through the day, and returned to my French press on the weekends, or as soon as I could.

For the past few years, since I’ve had the luxury of either working for myself or controlling my own hours, I’ve abandoned this. My morning coffee is now almost a ritual. I grind the beans, boil the water, let it steep for exactly four minutes, in one of a variety of presses that best suit the occasion. Even though I’m apparently quite amusing before my first cup, and even though I must force myself awake before our youngest daughter (a self-proclaimed “morning dove”) rises with the sun, it’s worth the sacrifice. I’ve found there is discipline in waiting for the coffee to be ready, a spiritual gain in not having the instant gratification of it waiting for me as soon as I’m downstairs.


April has stretched on in its usual, quirky New England way. Mornings are still just cold enough to not be comfortable, an annoying fact currently given that I have to go for a run outside when I would usually go to the gym, and, two days before writing this, we woke to snow, only to see 60 degrees and sunshine the following day. Still, the time passes, and I take comfort in that. I patiently await the change in seasons so that our deck furniture can return, and we can enjoy dinners outside. Again, the patience and waiting are good.

There’s nothing that I can do to rush this seasonal change. It will happen in its own time. I am confident…confident that my coffee will be ready when the timer beeps, and that the warmth will break through into our days, bringing vivid, Technicolored flowers in its wake.

“Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.”

Psalm 30:5b, NLT

I long for life to return to some form of normalcy. Part of the problem, or at least my problem, with the current state of the world is that we had so little warning as to the massive upheaval that we’re experiencing. It is not, however, apocalyptic. As we are patient, so the seasons will change. The night is difficult, but there will be joy in the morning. Whatever positive may be found in our waiting…and, if you search, there is some…will be worthwhile when we hug our loved ones again, visit our favorite coffee shop, sit down with our friends in person. We don’t walk away from these sorts of events unchanged, any of us. There is, and there will be, grief as we emerge from the other side, that is certain. Our patience, though, as un-naturally as it comes for many, will prove worthwhile. I think that we will see more of the beauty of small things, appreciate time passing outside of our control, not complain about routines that we once hated but now long to return to after they were taken away so abruptly.

Our lives will be better if we let them. That is my prayer for us.

Stay healthy.

My daughters’ “fairy house” in our front garden, a sign that Spring is here.
Aside

Half Awake

I used to have these night terrors as a child, and even occasionally through college. I would be half awake, struggling to break fully free of sleep, but find myself paralyzed. I would push, and strain, and try to scream, afraid that if I stopped, I would fall backward into a state from which I would never come back. Eventually, I would wake up.

That’s what this current state of suspended animation feels like. I’m pushing, straining, trying to get to the end. Accepting parts of this would be easy…always being virtual, the end of busyness, staying “safe.” Just assimilate, stop fighting. But, while I’m discovering that placing such a high value on busyness was wrong…that I had become the person I had never wanted to be…so is giving into the throes of despair, a darkness from which one cannot awaken.

Eventually, we will wake up. We will. And there will be sunlight. There will be joy in the morning.

Don’t Panic: The Importance of Keeping Your Cool

The words "Don't Panic" drawn on the sand on the beach, looking toward the ocean.

I’ve been intending to put down some thoughts here about this pandemic gripping our world for a few weeks. The problem is that, as it has kept evolving so rapidly, I feel as though I can’t keep my thoughts straight. What I think I know today I suddenly don’t know tomorrow, and the intellectual jostling and resulting emotional whiplash has been difficult enough to manage internally, to say nothing of writing anything that’s remotely coherent.

That said, there’s a theme that I’ve seen, a through-line that’s been pervasive from the last week of February until now, and it’s a concerning one. Everyone is terrified.

The first two weeks of March, Karen and I were with my parents to see them through an important medical procedure. When we left for the trip, the dreaded pandemic was confined to the West coast…troubling news in the paper, but not impactful to us otherwise. The area in which my parents live was among the last in the country to have anyone test positive. There is some providence in the fact that we were essentially self-quarantined just by being there for two weeks. A week before our return trip, Boston experienced its first surge, but the town in which we live was free of cases. By the time we returned, restrictions were beginning to be put into place, but by that time, the underlying mood was already at a fever pitch.

As Karen and I were leaving the town in which my parents live, we stopped for gas, to find that there was none. Just as everyone was running on grocery stores for toilet paper (a topic of its own), in that town, everyone was running on gas. We finally located a station that wasn’t sold out, an older station in which I couldn’t pay at the pump. I went inside and conversationally asked the cashier if they had been this busy all day. She affirmed that business had been crazy. I commented that we were leaving for our road trip home, and I hoped that this wouldn’t be common everywhere (my overactive imagination was painting apocalyptic scenarios of being stranded by the roadside on a desolate interstate with no fuel and no one venturing out to come to our aid for fear of some Andromeda Strain). She responded, “I just hope you don’t have to through one of those states that are closing their borders! Some of them aren’t letting anyone in or out. I heard we’re going to start doing that soon.”

I’m going to be honest…by the time I returned to the car, I was a nervous wreck from hearing this (remember my aforementioned imagination). Karen and I talked it through for a moment. Were a state to do this, the amount of police and military presence required to seal a border entirely from its neighbors would be unsustainable. We decided that this was unlikely at worst, impossible at best, and, though we kept NPR’s hourly updates streaming on the drive, went on with the trip.

That gas station attendant, while meaning well and having no malicious intent, had succumbed to, and was disseminating, the fear that was beginning to grip the country. She was paying it forward, and not in a good way.


Fear is a poison. Its presence brings a toxicity to all that it touches. It drives people to purchase toilet paper, despite the absence of a logical reason for doing so (nowhere in the dreaded virus’ symptoms are diarrhea). It also spreads with a voracity unmatched by any virus. Quickly, it seeps into decision making, and there is an inversely proportional decline in the quality of those decisions when it does. Because a lack of ability to engage in critical thinking is also pervasive in our culture, the popularity of those decisions become mainstream, resulting in pressure on others to conform, resulting in blanket political decisions that do harm.

Regardless of where you stand on steps being taken or opportunities missed to handle this pandemic, our interactions with each other (especially as they become virtual and knowing that social media is a breeding ground for rage culture and mob psychology) would do well to be dialed back a bit. Advice that is meant well (there’s a big difference between staying at home and staying inside) takes on a fervor and becomes implanted with the effectiveness of the most insidious marketing campaign with enough repetition. We lash out at each other, we spread rumors which are unvalidated, we contribute to a phobia.

When we do so, we rob each other of hope. And right now, we’re all in desperate need of a bit of a hope.


A few days ago, I read some history of how the town in which we live handled the influenza outbreak in the 1900’s. The steps that were taken then were remarkably similar to the steps that we are taking now. The difference lies primarily in scale. Yet, a favorite phrase among media professionals today is “unprecedented times.” This isn’t at all unprecedented, but rather the first occurrence in our generation of something of this magnitude. We’ve dealt with it before, we’ll deal with it now. Life will be changed, but it will go on. It just will, because that’s what life does. And yes, many will get this virus…likely most of us will. And the toll will be tragic, too painful to speak of for some, and I grieve for them.

We need to take a breath, though, a deep breath. And then, we need to each love our neighbor. And then, we need to make calm, rational decisions, even though they may be unpopular and incur Twitter-rage. If we do so, we may just get through this more quickly, and certainly with less of a scar to our collective psyche when we do.

Be healthy, my friends. And be be well.

Image attribution: Ruth Hartnup under Creative Commons.