There’s a big thing happening in the world around COVID-19. Some people know more than others. I am in the latter category. I have read a little here and there. I felt the first personal impacts ten days ago, when a client called to cancel the finish carpentry job I was supposed to start in their home this past Monday. For me, it was a significant job representing two months of income at a time when I don’t have much savings. I’ve also been to two airports twice in the last two weeks.
The slow-ish pace at which I am learning and accepting our current shared reality surprises me. I imagine that like many people out there, I find myself thinking and talking about the “end of the world,” which has been depicted for me in the media for my entire life, from Meteor to Armageddon, Dawn of the Dead to World War Z, Resident Evil to The Rain. The post-apocalyptic worlds of ‘The Road,’ The Book of Eli, and, most recently, Karen Russell’s short story ‘The Gondoliers’, was even more interesting to me, because I believed that I would not only survive the end times, but would need to continue to find ways to connect to my purpose, my self, my joy. The things that make me me.
I am thirty-three years old, and in some ways I have been practicing for this COVID-19 moment since I was born. I think of Tommy Lee Jones’ Men in Black character talking to Will Smith in 1997: “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky and stupid and you know it.”
It’s fun to think of myself as a person who is smart and able to sort truth from untruth, stay calm in unprecedented situations, stay connected to the things that are most important. It may not always be true, of course: an inclination I had yesterday was to go buy all the rice and beans and nut butter and energy bars I could. It turned out to be a pretty normal grocery trip with a few more impulse buys than usual, like multiple bottles of hand soap.
What prevails through all of this is that I don’t know. What I’m coming to realize for myself is that I don’t have to know. It is my ability and willingness to be with the uncertainty that I want to cultivate. I want to be fully present in this moment – because if and when shit hits the fan, as they say, I want to be able to be fully present in that moment, whatever it looks like, however it feels.
I feel the gravity of all of this in my bones. As my source of income evaporated, I relished in the ease of being able to tend to my personal projects. I continued work on the tiny house, a three-and-a-half year project which is now just a few touches from completion. Alas, that required trips to the hardware store. I found myself on vacation.
This is how it begins for me. The systems on which I rely begin to shift. Stock market and bitcoin prices drop. I imagine the people on the other end of my loans and credit cards going through similar experiences. The things which are truly important start to clarify themselves again. They’ve been there all along, of course, waiting for me to pay closer attention.
As the reality of self-quarantine sets in, I notice that I wash dishes more often, take care of the laundry, vacuum our Siberian Husky’s fur off everything. I re-organized my sock drawer, folded my wife’s laundered underwear, and alphabetized my book shelves by author and genre. While some of my anxiety shows up during these tasks, I also love the opportunity to reflect on who I am and how I want to be in the world. I want to be connected to my closest loved ones, who are some of the most amazing humans on the planet.
It turns out that what is being asked of me is extraordinarily difficult for me: stay home. don’t gather with people. don’t go to work. It feels like a meditation retreat has been all but forced upon me in my own home, with no real end date. The best way that I can show up for myself, my loved ones, my community, and the planet right now is to slow down and stay home. Nothing is more clear to me than that right now.
It’s as if I suddenly have the time to read books I’ve been wanting to read. I have time to learn to draw, cook, and organize business receipts. I can pull weeds in the garden, call up my friends and loved ones to talk. And watch movies (I can only imagine how loaded down the Netflix servers are going to be over the next couple of weeks).
There’s a lot of weird stuff happening out there in the world. The world might be ending, whatever that means. What I do know is that I’m not the hero in the story of how humanity is saved from COVID-19. I’m just an out-of-frame extra, out walking my dog while society crumbles, because that beautiful husky needs her exercise.