Of all of the weeks of quarantine, this one has been the most disorienting to me. On Monday, I drove to the place where I pick up my daughter on Wednesdays and didn’t remember that this was incorrect until I pulled into the driveway. On Wednesday, I asked my daughter if she was excited that tomorrow was her last day of school assignments, and she had to remind me that she still had 2 more days of assignments. I spent all of Friday chanting “this is Friday” to myself, because nothing inside of me seemed to grasp the truth of that, and I needed my brain to remember to do the Friday things. I call it a miracle of the highest order that I managed to show up to work at the right times all week long.
On top of the disorientation, our little family has begun the strange adjustment to mask life. It hasn’t been pleasant, honestly. On some level, I’ve recognized that going into stores makes me anxious, and that I generally adopt a mindset of getting what I need and getting out. But I don’t think it really hit home that this is what I was doing and experiencing until the first time I had to take my child to the store with me. Seeing her experience the store anxiety for the first time opened my eyes a little bit more. I did the best I could to prepare her and let her know what to expect, but the rest had to be learned in real life and that can be difficult to witness.
Yesterday, we needed to go out again to pick up something I had ordered online. Since we were out, we decided to make an impromptu stop for ice cream. We have a summertime tradition of getting ice cream cones and eating them as we stroll around the downtown square, and since we were there and the ice cream shop was open, we tried to replicate that tradition. Honestly, the whole thing fell flat. There was anxiety about putting masks on, and there was anxiety about taking masks off. There was anxiety about taking new routes to maintain social distance, and there was anxiety about walking the old, familiar routes with the business closed and bearing the signs mandated by the CDC.
We tried to make the best of it by stopping to read the signs on the doors about how each business was operating during Covid-19. On some level it was comforting to know what to expect, how to obtain services, and how to behave when we needed that service or wanted to visit that store. On another level, it was unsettling. In an attempt to simply state a complex experience, I’ll say that though the information was simple, it felt overwhelming to try to comprehend.
We ended up strolling all the way to our church and sitting in the courtyard processing the experience we were having. My child was able to talk about her discomfort and worry and her desire for things to be the way that they were before. We sat with that desire for a while, because I think that says it all.
I process this desire in therapy every week: “I just want to be who I was before”: before the “thing” happened that changed me and changed everything. Gently, I have to deliver the news that there really is no going back, and challenge the idea that going back is something any of us actually want to do. Just as gently, I introduce the idea that while we can’t go back, we can grow forward, and maybe what we as humans actually want in this scenario is the peace that comes from that growth. My therapist, brilliantly quoting from the book You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb, stated it to me this way, “We can’t choose the pain, but we can choose whether or not we suffer”.
I’m coming to believe that the effort we spend in trying to get back to the way it was before, to who we were before, is the choice to suffer. It is a goal that is impossible to reach and our efforts to achieve it will only leave us feeling frustrated and helpless. I know I’ve been feeling those things pretty intensely this past week. Conversely, perhaps growing forward is the choice to feel the pain and learn from it. The goal of this idea is actually attainable, and our efforts to pursue it may generate a sense of agency and peace.
In the case of the Covid-19 life, I’m not really sure yet what growing forward looks like, but I am 100% sure that grasping for how it used to be is causing me some very real suffering. From the things I’ve seen in the news and on social media, I feel like it is safe to say that I’m not the only one. Figuring out how to hang on to my internal peace while also attempting to reduce the ambient stress for my family during a global pandemic has been a big ask, so I think that in my life, the growing forward has to start with grace: grace for myself and grace for others. I need the grace that allows me to be ok, to still be “good”, while I fumble around and figure it out.
It’s also the gift of grace that I want for my daughter during this season. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be growing up during a global pandemic. Above all, I want her to feel confident that she is safe, and then right after that, I want her to know that she is still so very, very good while she fumbles around and figures out this new life.
If I may offer a single prayer on behalf of us all, it would be that we all grant that kind of grace to ourselves, our families, and everyone we encounter in the days to come.
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