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What Happens Next

Updated: Aug 21, 2021

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

It took a while, but I finally found my social-distancing groove. I created a structure for my days and a toolbox of things that help when I need it—yoga, taking a walk, journaling, phoning a friend. My anxiety levels are significantly lower. Most days I am, dare I say, content. I have figured out How to Be Alone in the Time of Coronavirus.

But earlier this week our governor went on TV and announced that the social-distancing measures were working, and that he was hoping to lift the stay-at-home orders on April 26, if not earlier. March Steph would have been ecstatic at this news—an end date to latch onto, a sense of normalcy being on its way. But April Steph wants nothing to do with normal.

Please don’t misunderstand me—I am relieved that fewer people are going to die and that people will get to earn paychecks again. Opening back up is good. I don’t wish any more suffering on anyone. But my anxiety is back. Now I’m worried that we will go back to normal, that the world will open back up and nothing will have changed.

Personally, I am enjoying work without a 45-minute commute each way, florescent lights, and the prison of designated hours in which I must be present and accounted for. Instead, I have mid-afternoon walks, time to cook nutritious meals, and shoulders that are not up to my ears. I have a daily yoga practice, I’m saving money, and I haven’t worn makeup, a bra, or real pants in a month. But my worry goes beyond my superficial desires.

Collectively, we’ve stepped out of the rat race. The pace of life (at least for those without kids) has slowed way down. There is time to notice the new buds on the trees and the return of the chickadees. The smog cloud over my city is gone. We are consuming less, doing less, and resting more.

I feel a stillness and an ease right now that I’ve been searching for my entire life. I do not feel pressure to buy anything, learn anything, tone or strengthen anything, or hide anything. I do not feel like I need to prove anything, pretend anything, climb any ladders, or keep up with anyone. I have enough. I am enough.

I am overgeneralizing, I know. I still have my bad days. I’m still depressed, despairing. And the reality I describe is not everyone’s reality. Mine is a position of privilege. I don’t mean to discount the horrors or risks that doctors, nurses, grocery store workers and others are both witnessing and experiencing. This is our Dickensian moment—it’s the best of times, it’s the worst of times.

It’s also a peek into a different way of life—one that I have been told repeatedly cannot and will not exist. It turns out that we can stop pumping carbon into the atmosphere. We can prioritize family, friends, and neighbors over the mighty dollar. We can give people healthcare, a helping hand, a more reasonable paycheck amount. We can buy less, reuse more, and go without. We just choose not to.

My worry is that these weeks and months will only be a brief respite. That when the world opens back up for business we will once again commence taking more than we need, stepping on whoever we need to to get where we are going, and turning our gaze away from inequality.

Much of the struggle of my adult life has been trying to reconcile what I imagine is possible with reality. I have never understood why everyone can’t have healthcare, food, and shelter. Why we can’t all have fulfilling jobs, satisfying relationships, and rich communities. Why we can’t let the land tell us what it knows or leave the trees alone, or extend our care to the water.

Again, we can, we just choose not to.

My therapist told me this week that I can’t worry about the collective, that I am only in control of me. I know she’s right. All I can control is how I spend my days, which values I choose to live by, and who I spend time with. Even if the rat race goes on, it is within my power to stop running in it.

But it still feels like we’ve come to the decision point in our story. We can go back the way we came, or we can take the turnoff and go somewhere new. The pessimist in me has low expectations. My practical side knows it’s easier said than done. But my idealism is holding out hope. For this moment anyway, it all feels possible.

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