Close to 50 years ago, I quit smoking. I had taken it up to be cool at 15 and I kept at it for the next eight years. At 23, I stopped because I knew how bad it was for me, but in my heart, I was sure I would never have quite as much fun again. That sounds ridiculous now, but the intensity of that feeling at the time was palpable. For the first few weeks, everything felt grim—a condition that could only be improved, I felt, by the sensation of holding that lit Marlboro in my hand and taking a deep drag. Obviously, I made it through the torture of a life without cigarettes, and I ended up learning a lot of lessons from the experience. The most important was that I could do something difficult and survive it, that I could get to the end of a really hard process. I held that in my pocket for many years when I was faced with a long, arduous or painful task. If I can quit smoking, I would think to myself, I can do anything.
I had that epiphany again the year I turned 60 and decided to quit drinking. I’d been negotiating with myself for several years so I could keep having a few glasses of wine every night, but it finally just got exhausting and I gave it up. Interestingly, especially after all the ways I’d tried to “manage” my drinking, it was easier than quitting smoking. But it wasn’t a walk in the park because I had to change lots of habits to eliminate that one. Still, a few months later, I realized I wasn’t longing for a glass of chardonnay when I sat down on the couch at the end of the day. It was another victory for good health, but it was also another reminder to me that I had the resilience necessary to get through something tough. I've given up bad habits, received a freelance writer's life full of rejections, and lost my mother. What I know is that it was my own internal stuff that got me through all of it.
That’s the constant here—our hearts and our deep affection for each other.
Needless to say, I’m looking for that same resilience in this current situation. Some days, it comes naturally. I know in a few months I'll laugh at how tortured I felt about having to stay in my own house wearing comfortable clothes and getting to see my partner whenever I felt like it. But many days, that is not the first place my busy brain goes. Instead, I start feeling sorry for myself before my eyes are open. I go immediately to counting how many days it is before our lives might feel safe and free and normal again. Then, of course, I start thinking about how I won’t be able to make it that long, that I’ll go screaming into the streets—or at my partner—before that free time ever comes. And I have it easy. I have not lost my job, or a loved one during this pandemic. I've even had a previous opportunity to experience myself with no structure when I retired a few years ago. I wasn’t great at it—obviously—but I am not as jarred by all of these open hours, probably, as some people are who are experiencing this for the first time.
Still, I feel a little crazy—a mix of disconnected, disorganized, anxious, and unfocused. On some days, I feel as if fear of the unknown alone could take me out. But, on a deeper level, I know it won’t, because somewhere in me my resilience is there waiting for me to muster it. And even though what I am experiencing is NOTHING compared to what some people are going through, I know our collective resilience will help us through this. I can see it in artists and musicians going online to teach kids who are stuck at home. I can see it in the plethora of funds created to help people who have lost everything. And I can see it in the ways that everyone I know is just getting up each day and moving themselves forward.
We will make it through this. I know it. Like me, everyone has at least a couple of experiences in their past to buoy them. But more than anything, we have each other—to talk to, to hold Zoom meetings with, to love (even at a social distance), and to believe in. That’s the constant here—our hearts and our deep affection for each other. We’ll get there. We always do.