My wife and I have finally had COVID 19 shots. We are now prepared to live a new life. How might that look?
It’s a little over a year since the pandemic became a reality. My wife and I were among those only marginally affected. COVID infected 31, 516, 783 people significantly, leaving 569, 528 dead. I keep having that mixed feeling people report having when they tell you they’ve dodged the bullet.
I’ve been thinking back over the year. It’s not so much what I did do during the height of the pandemic but what I didn’t. My routines changed dramatically. The period was an experience in avoiding, simplifying, unloading, while waiting for shots. I began to live more reactively, cautiously. I felt surrounded by danger.
Shopping the supermarket wasn’t playful anymore; I stopped indulging the pleasures of wandering the aisles aimlessly like dogs do on walks; they will sniff the environment with every step they take with no purpose other than curiosity. At the pandemic’s height, when I went shopping, I took a list of items meticulously prepared. I came, I saw, I bought, I checked out and got back to the car with groceries in the trunk in a matter of minutes. I have never experienced myself so single focused in a supermarket before. It used to be fun. It’s now efficient, instead.
I didn’t conduct small group classes in spirituality and eldering any more as I had for the last fifteen years. Prohibitions against group assembly nixed that. I missed the group interactions. They were deeply moving and often funny. A virtual presence like Zoom may substitute some in times like this but it will never be as energizing as the real thing, surrounded by real bodies and being attuned to the nuances that real presence awakens.
In a similar vein, I did not gather with friends or even family for dinner or meet acquaintances for coffee. The pulling back hurt, especially so since during this period we had a great granddaughter born. We saw her regularly on an electronic site called Tinybeans. Through this medium we watched her grow almost daily in the first year until we made our first visit. Holding her was magical.
I did not engage any more in what was probably an unhealthy habit, anyway. When I grew bored or was restless, before, I might jump in the car and go to malls or stores to just to look around. I might go to Penny’s and check out clothing or to Lowes to inspect tools. This never amounted to purposeful behavior –– it was shamelessly escapist, tainted with the scourge of consumerism. I behaved this way only because I didn’t know what else to do with myself.
There was one upside: I didn’t spend much money on gas during this period. I used the car so little there was not need.
I will confess that for a time I felt deprived of “normal” activities.
The pandemic, at its height, kept most people at home. That was perhaps the greatest complaint: the feeling of being housebound, trapped, with nowhere to go. I know I’m not alone in this but for a number of us, this confinement revealed some surprises. It was common to hear people say: “I can’t believe I’ve accumulated so much junk.” I’ve heard the comment a lot from people when they’re moving but rarely from anyone who’s not going anywhere. People were amazed as they opened long forgotten closets, poked around cabinet drawers, searched garage shelves, attics and cellars; “Why in heavens name did I keep this for?” As our clutter was exposed, the purges began.
Landfills were suddenly inundated by householders bringing truckloads of junk. Some landfills prohibited them from dumping until they could efficiently accommodate the deluge. Neighborhood recycling stations began refusing cardboard since homeowners who had finally dumped old household stuff, started all over again. They bought more stuff through Amazon. Cardboard is a must when mail ordering and for a while cardboard seemed to spontaneously reproduce.
I wondered about other venues for getting rid of things: I thought immediately of the kids. It was very painful to discover that my kids had no interest in the furniture mom and dad wanted to dump. It was hurtful to learn that not only did the kids have no sentimental attachment to great grandma’s sewing table –– a beautiful Victorian relic –– or other memorabilia I was sure they would want, but also no interest even in childhood mementoes that survived the rooms they grew up in. Too dated for them, they’d say. What do you do with what’s piled up or perhaps more to the point, how come what I once wanted, needed, valued, and paid a hefty price for, no one, including myself, needs, wants or values anymore. Everything has a shelf life excepting perhaps those items Sotheby’s auctions off at extortionist prices. Awakening to the reality of being up to my ears with “stuff” is humbling. It’s a sign that a new generation is taking over the one I’m vacating.
The post- pandemic era will be shaping a new mentality. Just what that will look like isn’t clear. Hopefully we’ll be getting along with a little less.
I wondered what Google might be offering for people downsizing –– a subject referred to alternatively as decluttering –– and I found at least twenty books on the subject, numerous tips, suggestions for decluttering and a couple of writers that identified downsizing and decluttering as spiritual exercises. I was interested to note, too, that getting rid of books was especially difficult. It was a subject with its own category, addressed as specialty in itself.
Some of the books suggested that unaddressed clutter in one’s life was a form of addiction requiring a kind of 12 Step approach, which assume meant taking the first step that we were powerless.
Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist. A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.