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The Very Most Basic Things

A friend of mine texted the other day to say she was at Macy’s. I was immediately in a mixed state of nostalgia and disbelief. “Does it seem the same?” I texted back, as if the layout of a department store would also, somehow, be affected by the long pandemic. “Completely,” she answered quickly, which was both disturbing and slightly confirming. I haven’t been able to shake the weird sensation that, although I am doing practically every part of my life in my house, the rest of the world is going on just as it always was.

But of course I know that isn’t true. As soon as I have a Zoom meeting with my colleagues, and I can see that they are in their living rooms or home offices or kitchens, I can shake the feeling that everyone is still over there at the campus and I’m the only one at home. I think that social isolation and fear of the unknown have rattled the foundation of everything for most of us. On some level, nothing is as it was. Macy’s may still carry my favorite shirts, but taking a casual trip there on a Sunday afternoon is no longer part of what I do.

I’m thinking that I’m learning to appreciate some things I barely noticed before.

And that’s probably one of my strongest feelings right now—that much of what used to be part of our daily lives has now dropped away. Random visits to department stores, dinner at fun restaurants, evenings with groups of friends, working in my regular office with my lovely co-workers, going for coffee with Kim, traveling to any of the many places I would love to travel to … the list is endless. Our worlds and our lives have gotten tinier and tinier. When we factor in the addition of heavy smoke and an untenable political situation, our sense of physical and emotional mobility seems even narrower.

Part of life at my house these days is constant binge-watching, something I used to do only occasionally. Now it’s become an obsession. Most recently, we’ve been watching The Last Dance. In one episode, Michael Jordan is talking about his father’s murder. He says he remained strong afterwards because he remembered his father telling him that there is always a bright side to every situation. This is about as basic as a thing can get, and an idea that might have once seemed so naïve that I would have ignored it instantly. But it has stuck with me this week, and I’m thinking about the bright side of the pandemic and the bright side of living in a much simpler way than I did before this. I’m thinking that I’m learning to appreciate some things I barely noticed before.

A walk with Jodi in the morning, as the sun comes up in the distance, feels luxurious—like a chance to take stock and to appreciate what we have. The routine of our days has become almost a ritual now, and I find myself honoring the time we spend eating lunch. Instead of taking my salad to my desk and barely paying attention to what I’m consuming, as I’ve done at work for the last couple of years, it’s slower now. I notice how nice it is to take a break, to talk about the morning, to think about what I’ve learned or thought. We’ve taken up doing a 10-minute meditation after lunch, too, and even the dogs slow down and relax when they hear the voice of the man on the Calm app.

On breaks between Zoom meetings or paperwork I’m trying to finish, I throw the tennis ball for Remy in the yard. No matter how many times we do this, it cracks me up watching him race across the lawn and back, tossing it to me when he reaches my feet. And each of the several times we head out there during the day, I notice the differences in the light on the trees, the activity on the walking path next to our house. On Wednesdays, Mary comes for lunch and we alternate who provides the meal. We watch her dice tomatoes with the precision she applies to everything she does. It’s been years since I’ve taken the time to appreciate her in this way.

It may seem naïve or overly simplistic to think of what I’ve learned or gained during this time, and I am fully aware of how lucky I am to not have to worry about someone’s health or my own source of income. I’m grateful for all of that, and for the chance to almost literally go back to square one, to remember what’s really important, and to realize I don’t actually miss what’s not.

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