I’m a big rule follower. I always have been. When I was growing up, there was a lot of random chaos in my family, so I saw sticking to a certain set of behaviors and actions as a way to control things. Fairly quickly, my rules became a source of real, reliable order in my life. All these years later, I'm still very drawn to working hard, following a routine, and being stingy about how much leeway I allow myself in most situations. When my friends question me about these rules, I often answer with, “It’s harder to be me than it is to be you.” It’s a joke—sort of—but it’s mostly true. I taught myself over the years to believe that these rules that I made for myself were what kept order in place. It honestly never occurred to me that any occasional calm I experienced was simply life unfolding as it should. I actually believed I made it happen.
The hard part about living this way, of course, is that it’s not really sustainable, realistic, or healthy to stick to arbitrary rules, most of which I created. And yet, I still feel that I’m letting myself down if I loosen up. If I'd rather lie in bed and read the paper instead of going for a run, I'm likely to chide myself for being lazy. If I'm putting off that phone call that is sure to add work to what I already have to do, I am probably not going to let myself wait until tomorrow. Since I’m a grown-up woman with lots going on in my life, finding myself in a conflict between what I’m doing and what I think I should be doing is a common occurrence—and an annoying one.
I’m pretty clear that I actually have zero control over anything.
And this is where I find myself four months into our COVID-19 quarantine. What I’ve realized, as I try as hard as I can to normalize my life in the middle of all of this, is that I can’t. The rules actually no longer apply. Nothing is the same, no matter how many lists I make or schedules I try to follow. And forcing myself to live according to my own rules and regulations from pre-COVID times is ridiculous. It was probably ridiculous then, as well, and maybe that's the lesson during this gift year in which we’re all exploring new terrain. The rules simply don’t apply, and they never really did. They were just a way to give us the illusion that we had things under control.
One of my hardest life lessons is learning to loosen my grip. I have spent much of my life trying to hold tightly to what I want and to keep things I don’t want safely away from me. It's an exhausting way to live. And, it’s all designed to prevent some unknown pandemonium from taking over my life. In the current state of medical, social, and political affairs, I’m pretty clear that I actually have zero control over anything. I can watch the light come through the front window in the morning and then back through the trees at dusk, and I can breathe deeply in between, even if I'm feeling sad, scared, confused, and disconnected.
In truth, we should all just be congratulating ourselves for showing up and being present. I think of that when I take a break every couple of hours and go out to the front yard to throw a tennis ball for my dog Remy. He loves doing this more than I can possibly explain, and every time I go anywhere near the front door, he is certain it's because we're going to play ball. It makes me laugh and it makes me appreciate his spirit and optimism. I think if I made a rule now it would be to be more like him—to just love the heck out of what gets tossed my way and to make a point to show my great eagerness for whatever lies ahead.