I like to fancy myself as a fairly sophisticated individual. I read, I have complex interpersonal relationships, I enjoy an engaging career, and I am savvy enough to keep up with social changes so I don't draw too much attention to myself. What I’ve learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, however, is that I am much more predictable and basic than I ever imagined.
Anyone who has taken a psychology class is familiar with Abraham Maslow and his hierarchy of needs. This pyramid is based on research he did in the 1940s about the ways in which our development and motivation are affected by the fulfillment of our needs. Originally, Maslow said that we work to have our needs totally met on one level before we can move on to the next, but he later acknowledged that these generally overlap. Like most people, I imagine, I spent a lot of years on the first two or three levels as I found a career and housing and created and developed relationships. Before COVID-19, I would have said that I was pretty much focused on the highest levels of the hierarchy—esteem needs and self-actualization. I had the luxury to think about creativity and accomplishment.
I’ve spent a lot of my life in a hurry—way too much to do in way too little time.
In many ways, that’s probably still true because I am extremely fortunate to be able to work and to have good health and shelter. But this whole situation has reminded me of just how important some very simple, basic parts of my life are to me. When the pandemic began, for example, I realized quickly that I have scarcity issues when it comes to food. I bought so many cans of beans during the first week that I could have won a chili cook-off. I even bought a case of water, despite having a refrigerator with a water filter that will give me water when I want it. Regardless of what I have, I felt shaken to the core.
Even at that, I started the pandemic with an invincible attitude about my own safety. I’m fit and healthy, despite being 16 months from 70. “I’m fine,” I said to Jodi when I pretended for a while that I was going to continue going to work and living my life as I normally did. She looked at me skeptically and a few of my other friends just said, “No.” Since then, I’ve paid attention and stayed home, but it’s made me feel more physically vulnerable than I’ve ever felt. There’s a humility in that feeling that I’ve only just begun to think about. That humility touches everything for me these days. I’ve learned most profoundly that I can’t take any of this for granted. The fact that I can’t see my friends and hug them and make food for them and sit at their dining room tables and laugh is painful. My life isn’t the same without being with them in person.
Before this, I would have said my biggest focus in life at this age is on being a contributing, creative member of society. I am blessed to have what I have, and privileged beyond anything I can even understand. But I generally don't spend much time appreciating that, or figuring out a real way to share the benefits of that privilege with others. Mostly, I’ve spent a lot of my life in a hurry—way too much to do in way too little time. All of that is of my own making, too. It’s like filling my plate at a buffet and then complaining that I’m too full to eat it all.
Probably in some effort at self-actualization, I think we’re all looking for meaning and growth amid the craziness of this time. For me, it has heightened my sense of wanting to appreciate and savor what I have and to take the time to actually enjoy it all. Whatever happens in our individual lives, this is what’s happening to all of us. Wishing it away is a pointless exercise. Sitting in it and letting ourselves connect in whatever way we can is all there is. We need what we need, and we have what we have. This pandemic has reminded me to pay closer attention to those needs, to honor them, and to share my bounty with others when I can.