Easter Sunday was cool and gray. Any brightness came from the glare of thick white cloud cover. To be honest, it felt a little like salt rubbed into a scab. I couldn’t tell you what I did before one o’clock in the afternoon. A word scramble? An interior design game? I did go for a walk, by some miracle, thinking that if only I could get my blood moving, that would change things. But my dog Phoebe has less to prove, and as I gave her a gentle tug and a “let’s go,” I was struck by how much I used to be like her as a little girl- wandering, prone to smelling flowers, not particularly interested in the task at hand, especially if you call it a task. Let’s be clear, it’s not unusual for me to anthropomorphize my dog, but in this instance it stirred the memory of a moment we all have as children, when our time is not our own.
I was roughly five years old. Running errands with my mother, who took the “running” part of errands quite seriously, and for good reason. She was, and is, the mother of three, before the age of the internet, and more importantly, Amazon, and had more than a million things to do. I was a dawdling day dreamer that loved to window shop, even at the hardware store. I found knobs to be particularly romantic. Often, I was called to catch up. I did my dutiful best to keep with my mother’s stride, though there were times I felt in danger of being left behind. One day, and I can’t remember why it suddenly occurred to me to do so, I asked my mother to slow down. She stopped immediately.
“I’m so sorry,” she said, getting down to my level. “Was I moving too quickly for you?” I felt at once validated and self-conscious, so genuine was her attention. I nodded shyly, and I’m never shy. “Well, then,” she offered, “Why don’t you pick the pace?” I don’t know how we still managed to get everything done that day, and how my mother still had time to cook us a feast by 6 pm, but I remember the spaciousness that I felt around me. My imagination had time to breathe, instead of whispering quietly in stolen moments, only to be interrupted.
Years later, when I was much older than five, I adopted my mother’s clip. I moved to New York, and upon visiting me there, she remarked how quickly I wove through the crowds. It was a point of pride for me, and served me well for many years; as such, I wasn’t interested in slowing down. I’d once heard the adage, “If you want something done, give it to a busy person,” and took it as marching orders to be that very, very busy person. I loved being efficient; it was intoxicating, the whir of activity spinning so high it would almost hit a fever pitch. That’s how I knew I was doing it right. I could measure my self-worth by the number of accomplishments scratched off in my journal.
Now, whether we’ve asked for it or not, there is an abundance of spaciousness. It doesn’t feel like a gift, nor is it packaged like one. And I know many of us are busier than ever during this time for a variety of reasons, but for most, even if the day keeps us occupied, our routine has been knocked flat. Our go-t0 coping mechanisms have been greatly disrupted; there are no bars to convene at and one day, we may reach the end of Netflix. And since social media really only serves to reflect back all the things are not doing, and not accomplishing, eventually, we have to be with… ourselves. To say that it’s uncomfortable would be a gross understatement.
And now here I am on Day 28 of my quarantine. I’ve watched “The Proposal” twice in the last 48 hours. I’ve been reconsidering all of my major life decisions. What if I’d never left Paris? What if I’d pursued something entirely different? What if all the things I cared about before changed or faded? What if my life turned out even more differently than I imagined as a little girl? Or worse, “smaller”
I did slow down with Phoebe this morning, and after the initial restlessness passed (must… not… gain… Quarantine 15), I saw that actually, the gray sky allowed me to squint a little less, and gaze at the flowers a little more.
It’s not a leap to say that this time is putting our priorities on trial. The verdict is usually quick and impossible to ignore. But then, what to do with the newfound space? If the building blocks of our lives and identities are suddenly shifted, how do we maintain our footing? Should we even try? Are we, in fact, being left behind? Or are we simply resetting?
It’s 10:34 in the evening and I’ve been debating for the last 20 minutes if I should go ahead and have that ice cream. After all, it’s late, and I’m trying to ration. I don’t want to have to go back to the grocery store any time soon- especially since my Unemployment benefits are still floating somewhere in the ether, refusing to materialize. So I compromise by not substituting, but adding blueberries on top, because you know, health.
I don’t know what’s going to happen at the end of all this. Will we go back to our old ways of rushing and raging at traffic? Will the world require us to? Will we be different? I’ll admit that I’m a bit of a sycophant to Clarity, but right now the only one answering my calls are the Great Opaque. I hate it when they answer, mostly because I see so much more of them than my preferred guardian. Are we in danger of being left behind? I don’t think so. Because between the shows and movies, the phone calls and ice cream, we still exist, which is to say that we matter. We are still accompanied by that little child begging for the time to dream. The new world may require it of us, anyway; our old identities are looking more and more like square pegs in a world full of round holes. And considering the pause that’s been imposed on us all, adding softness to our edges could be exactly what we need.