Several Sundays ago, I went out for a jog in a heavy mist. Usually, I listen to a podcast or music when I run. For some reason, unclear to myself, I decided to leave my phone behind, even though, given the current situation, never has there been such a need for distraction as now. Yet, my phone had mockingly informed me that my usage had increased tremendously the past week.
Of course, it had. Between trying to monitor my school email and google classrooms, oversee my own children’s school assignments, and exchanging texts with friends to help me keep my sanity, I felt like I hadn’t put my phone down since our quarantine began.
At first, it was uncomfortable to run without external noise upon which to focus. The run seemed more tedious. But I soon fell into my natural rhythm. The only sounds were my footsteps pounding the pavement enveloped in the muffled sound of the mist, and the occasional car. It can be unnerving to be left with your internal thoughts, especially now when so much is unknown, and fear and anxiety pervade.
I love distractions; I need them. On the weekends my children are with their father, I fill every moment with activities: exercise classes, yoga classes, visits to nail salons and the hairdresser, brunches, lunches and dinners with friends. I am always on the go because if I stop, I fear being overwhelmed with uncomfortable emotions.
One of my very good friends always advises me to just be. “You are such a doer; sometimes you just need to be.” But I fear just being. And so I avoid it.
Yet, that day during my run, I set my intentions for the upcoming week. I was going to just be. I was going to appreciate all the comforts I had despite Covid-19 and really try to enjoy being with my children in this rather strange situation. Quarantine feels like a suspension of time so removed is it from our normal daily scheduled life. I wake up every morning questioning the day; there is nothing to differentiate one day from another, except for a self-imposed schedule.
Several evenings later, I learned of the death of a college friend. It was a person with whom I was once close. We had lost touch. I saw his success on Facebook. We liked each other’s photos.
I walked into the grocery store the next morning to face our new normal. People were social distancing; some wore masks. Everyone looked scared or worried. There were long lines to check out, and even longer lines to get into the store. I felt a distressing pressure on my chest; I could only take shallow breaths. Was it a reaction to the apocalyptic scene before me, Covid-19, or grief?
I thought about my college friend. He was smart, silly, and charismatic. I thought about the ridiculous fun and risky adventures we had had at a time I was completely unaware of life’s fragility. Through the years, I had thought of reaching out; I never did. Liking his photos on Facebook seemed like enough.
In June, several of my college friends and I had reunited in Buffalo for our twentieth year college reunion. We were supposed to meet him out; our paths crossed but never met. I remember thinking, I will see him next time I am in Buffalo. Because there is always a next time. Except when there isn’t.
It turns out my friend had fallen prey to something darker than the virus. He had relapsed and died of a drug overdose.
Despite the images we usually see on social media, the perfect images of people’s lives on Fakebook and Instagram, what I have come to realize in my 40s is that everyone struggles. Everyone faces his or her personal darkness. This is something that should connect us, but we spend so much time looking at the surface rather than delving deeper that we miss significant commonalities.
One common thread holding many of us together is dealing with life in quarantine. I read one expert who advised that as with any trauma, people need to find the lesson. The ability to extract a lesson makes people feel more in control of an uncontrollable situation. So I need to extract my own lessons.
I need to stop living my life always thinking there is going to be another opportunity. If anything, our current situation shows us, sometimes there won’t be. I intend to be less judgmental, less competitive, less concerned with appearances, results, and perfection. I want to allow myself room to just be. Sometimes that might be awkward. Sometimes that might be messy and imperfect. Always kinder. More grateful. Hopefully, regretless.