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Not in Charge of Anything


More than 20 years ago, my best friend and I got stuck in Truckee for two nights because of a huge snowstorm that closed I-80 in both directions. We spent the first night sleeping in a 7-11 parking lot in the back of my friend’s station wagon and the next night on the floor of a junior high school gymnasium. Obviously, it wasn’t fun, but we had no choice. Even the drive from the mini-mart to the school—with chains—was treacherous. Still, when it was just barely dawn on the second day, snowing so much we couldn’t see even inches in front of us, one man in the gym caused a huge ruckus, demanding that he be allowed to leave. It’s important to say here that no one was making us stay in the gym. They were providing us space so we could be safe.

I long for control over my life. I want to decide what I’m going to do, when I’m going do to it, and with whom.

I thought about that a lot that day—about how difficult it is when we feel like we aren't in control of our lives. But I was quietly proud of myself that I could contain my anxiety and just go with the flow. I thought of that man and his discomfort this week, in what is, far and away, the strangest episode of my nearly 70 years on earth. As with most people, I’m struggling with so many pieces of this—everything from not remembering what day it is, to not being with many of the people I love. Despite saying every night that I’m going to be on more of a schedule the next day, I still work in spurts and starts, moving from room to room, as if the living room will give me more inner peace than my home office or than sitting on my bed with my computer in my lap. But I know in my heart that my real struggle is just like that guy’s in Truckee. I long for control over my life. I want to decide what I’m going to do, when I’m going do to it, and with whom. I don’t want something outside of me changing my entire structure—whether it means my survival or not.

Even typing those words, I see the privilege in that scenario, and I know that I have an unusual amount of control over my regular life. And maybe that’s one of the lessons for me to ponder in these long, strange days—that it might be better if I used my power to help other people find power in their lives. In a weird way, that’s why I got involved in education in the first place. But on a much more basic level, even as a fairly self-aware individual, I am surprised at how much I’m struggling with a life I'm suddenly not in charge of. And, I find myself wanting to be much better at it than I am. I want to relish the slightly-longer time I get to stay in bed in the morning, the full days I get to spend in the same house with my partner and my dogs, and the chance I have to catch up on reading and household projects that I’ve claimed for years I want to do.

But no. It’s not really like that. And it’s not even that I’m obsessed with getting COVID-19. Instead, it’s as if I can’t quite find my inner manager, that part of me that can usually settle me down, remind me that I’m safe and fine, and urge me to be empathetic to those around me. Instead, I lapse into snippiness with Jodi, I whine about the lack of structure, I read long articles that make me more anxious, and I let myself go down rabbit holes of despair that end in us living Mad Max-like existences.

I’m sure I’m not alone in this adjustment to our new normal, but frankly that isn’t all that comforting. I am relying on anyone and anything these days to help me with self-containment, emotional intelligence, even time management. I think of how I shook my head about that difficult man during the snowstorm, and I figure this pandemic is at least a little lesson in why pridefulness is never a good idea.

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