What was it like living through a pandemic? you’ll ask me one day. By then, I’ll probably forget most of this. I won’t remember the little details. I’ll only remember the feeling that stuck to my skin, penetrating my bones, rearranging my DNA to change me (and therefore you) on a cellular level.
I’ll tell you that your dad and I were lucky. We were safe in our cozy, little home with our verdant, little backyard in our friendly, little neighborhood, just minutes away from our loving family members. We were able to work and manage life remotely. I wrote a lot and read a lot, and your father and I created music together (your dad got really good at piano). We argued about your names (but you know who won in the end). We laughed a lot and worried a lot, and reevaluated our beliefs. We chose to remain optimistic, reminding ourselves that our moment in history was still far better than what most humans have endured. We confirmed how much we wanted you in our lives—how much we needed a little bit of chaos and a whole lot of noise, yet we felt lucky we had so much time alone with each other before our lives changed (for the better) forever.
But I hope I’ll tell you that the pandemic changed us and we changed the world for the better, too.
I hope I’ll be able to tell you that everyone changed after the pandemic.
That we learned we’re doing too much and not being enough. That we suddenly understood so many of the material possessions and status symbols we’d been chasing our whole lives were worthless. That we realized we blindly follow politicians and corporations and media without thinking critically (so we stopped). That we grew to appreciate a simple hug, a walk around the block, someone delivering homemade dessert to our doorstep.
I hope I’ll be able to tell you that companies began saying “thank you” to their employees; not through insincere advertisements showing smiling faces clapping for laborers, but by increasing workers’ salaries, providing health care, offering paid sick leave, allowing the work day to actually end by 5pm.
I hope I’ll be able to tell you that the burden of solving the country’s financial issues was taken off the backs of the middle class. That we finally figured out how to fairly tax citizens so that everyone could afford a quality life. That we discovered no one should profit off worldwide death and suffering. And no one should be able to reach “trillionaire” status during a devastating recession.
I hope I’ll be able to tell you that I gave and loved as much as I could. That I simplified my life even more than I already had. That I confirmed my own belief that all we need is the little things: family, friends, tasty meals and comforting drinks, good music and interesting books, time in nature, a few sparkly things (not too many), more sunny days than rainy days, a sense of humor. And an ability to see beyond the current situation, a strong faith in a promising tomorrow, and a determination to make it happen ourselves.
I hope I’ll be able to tell you that in the end it was all OK because we had each other, and truly that’s all we ever need.
I must confess a secret: I love that I’ve got you all to myself, my babies. Call me greedy, but I’m glad no one else can feel your kicks and jabs, your ticklish wiggles and stop-me-in-my-tracks rolls. Everywhere I go, all day long, I feel you moving right along with me. I never feel alone.
I rejoice knowing where you are at all times, getting to choose what you’re eating and drinking. I know you’re safe and sound. One day, I won’t be privy to this information. One day, my sweets, I’ll have to let you go.
But for now, you rest (and are restless) safe inside my womb.
I’m twice as blessed because there are two of you. Knowing you’re keeping each other company, nestled snugly beside each other, overflows my heart with love, spilling tears from my eyes. I hope you’ll always be this close to each other. I hope you’ll always be this close to me.
From the moment I knew you twins existed, I’ve loved you deeply. I couldn’t believe I was lucky enough to carry both of you. No matter what, little ones, you’re a part of me. Science says your cells have merged with my cells, so even when you go, you’ll leave behind traces of your DNA.
We still have time together, my babies. And I’ll cherish every moment it’s just us three moving throughout the world as one.
But know that even once you enter this world, you’ll always be part of me.
I refuse to believe what the news articles say.
That my children’s lives will be worse than their parents’ lives.
That I’m bringing children into a world that is crumbling, burning, ruined.
That there is no hope left.
Instead, I believe that my children’s generation will be more compassionate than any generation that’s ever come before them.
Born into a country full of division, they will learn how to unite, how to speak openly and effectively, how to listen.
Born into a country saddled with trillions of dollars in debt, innumerable problems, they will learn grit and resiliency. They will become innovative problem solvers and pioneering doers.
They are not doomed.
They might not be able to afford McMansions like their grandparents’ generation, but they won’t want to anyway, because they’ll learn that meaning is not found in material possessions.
They might not fill churches the way their grandparents’ generation did, but they will still have faith: they’ll believe in spirits in the trees, connecting to the universe through nature, seeing magic where we never looked. Unlike previous generations, they won’t equate God to a fatherly punisher, but a loving mother, who asks us to nurture Earth and each other.
They might not be able to swim in the ocean without thinking of climate change, unlike the thoughtless generations before them, but they’ll learn to appreciate every moment, never taking for granted nature’s beauty or the presence of loved ones.
Unlike the generations that came before them, my children’s generation will learn to reuse and recycle, to do without, to have enough. They won’t greedily ask for more. They won’t believe lies corporations try to sell them. They won’t believe in standard beauty or one-size-fits all masculinity and femininity. They won’t let products decide who they are; they’ll decide for themselves.
They won’t be divided by petty labels. They’ll learn how to voice their opinions and fight for their rights. The fat cats don’t stand a chance. This generation will be less gullible and more critical. It won’t be long before irrelevant kings and queens are dethroned, branded obsolete.
My children’s generation might not be able to afford college, but no matter — they’ll put colleges out of business. Onto the scam of higher education, they’ll find ways to develop lifelong learning skills without ever setting foot in a sterile, florescent-lit classroom. They won’t shackle themselves to debt over a worthless piece of paper, yet they will be brighter than anyone who came before them.
Things will be different for my children’s generation. But I refuse to believe it will be worse.
Because I know the parents of my children’s generation. We won’t give up. We won’t give in. We have stopped believing the lies of consumerism long ago. We’ve begun to connect to the planet in different ways. Some of our parents have too.
We believe in positivity. We believe in our own collective power. And we will teach our children to be strong.
Our children’s future is bright.
Fear does not guide me. I am filled with hope and positivity.
Because I refuse to believe what the news articles say.
I play music to escape.
When I miss my family, I play Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks” album, returning to the safe haven of our 1990’s conversion van, my dad driving, my mom at his side, my sisters and I watching out the windows as we roll through Wisconsin countryside on a family vacation. My dad sings along. My mom passes back snacks. I stare up at clumpy white clouds, like sheep’s wool, imagining unicorns prancing along them. There’s no safer feeling than this. Lying my head against a pillow, I let the sun warm my face, and drift off, Van’s voice lulling me to sleep.
When I’m feeling down, I play Dave Matthews Band’s “Live at the Red Rocks ’95” and O.A.R.’s “Any Time Now” albums, and I am instantly transported to a balmy summer’s day during my early 20’s. Nostalgia washes over my body, waves of bliss. I’m reminded of the lightheartedness of youth: driving in my best friend’s car, windows rolled down, humid air on my bare arms as it ruffles my wild, air-dried hair. We sing so loudly cars driving past stop to stare.
When I need to remember that I have everything I’ve ever prayed for, I play the Once soundtrack, carrying me back to that summer we fell in love. We knew it from the start. A summer thunderstorm, rain pelting against the top of his car, we sit in the driveway and hold hands, listening until robins begin their three a.m. trilling in dark tree branches overhead.
Even when we feel stuck in a moment in time, there are ways to escape. And remember. And realize that right now we are exactly where we’re supposed to be.
One of the hardest lessons humans must learn is to be present. We spend so much of our lives waiting for a moment in time to be over. The school day. The work day. Weeks of heartbreak after a breakup. A winter that has overstayed its welcome. The sleepless night newborn phase. The tantrum-throwing toddler phase. The unemployment phase. The overworked phase.
But every phase makes up what we call our life. This moment is our life.
Simple pleasures allow us to bear temporary, painful moments. Fresh coffee every morning. A sweet treat in the middle of the day. Rays of sunshine sneaking through an angry cloud. Children’s laughter as they play on the sidewalk outside.
Let’s not wish for this moment to be over. Let’s not see our lives only in the future tense. Let’s be here, now. And remember that every moment is temporary.
Pull on the gloves. Zip up the jacket. Wipe down the handles. I’m off to war.
Seven months pregnant with twins, and this grocery store has become my battlefield. A place where an invisible enemy lurks on every surface, inside any throat. All bodies before me must be looked at with suspicion; I have no comrades; it’s every man for himself.
Carrying precious cargo, I can’t take any risks, trip over any traps. And I’ve got to keep my hands away from my face.
Get in and get out. Take only what you need. Memorize every move you make. And don’t touch your face!
When I finally return home, I strip down, leave my jacket to bake in the sun, drop my gloves in the washing machine, and head straight to the sink. I wash my hands.
How lucky am I that the only battlefield I’ve ever stepped onto has been a grocery store, the only prison I’ve ever been locked inside has been my own cozy home?
When I cook dinner tonight I realize I’m not at war. Other people aren’t my adversaries.
There’s no such thing as being stuck at home. I’m safe at home. I’m one of the lucky ones.
Though I worry for my unborn babies, and for all the vulnerable people in the world, I can’t help but realize that if this is the scariest moment of history I’ve ever had to live through, well damn. I’ve been blessed.
Let us all be grateful, for most of us will never have to think, “I’m off to war.”
First, roll up your sleeves, cover your hair, and step into a pair of ratty jeans. This is going to get messy.
Start with your calendar and to-do list. Cross out anything that isn’t essential. Look at all the busy work you scribbled down months ago. Those tasks were always a waste of time, but now you have an excuse to cancel them. And you know what? Those ugly 90’s track lights work just fine. Spending money and time on making your home look Instagram-worthy was never important.
Next, head over to your pantry. Toss out the junk food, all the white sugar and white flour, the chemical-laden snacks. They won’t be helpful when you’re sick. Hold onto the chicken broth, though. Shimmy on down to the cabinet below where all you store your doo-hickeys and thing-a-ma-bobs. If you haven’t used those after two weeks of shelter-in-place with nothing else to do but cook and eat, then you never needed them to begin with.
How many pairs of clothes do you really need? Take a gander at your closet and drawers. Looks like all those times you told yourself you’d be happier if you owned cute jeans and expensive tops you were lying to yourself! They certainly haven’t been comfortable to wear around the house during this uncertain time, now have they?
And now for the good stuff. Pull out your phone, scroll through your text messages and emails and phone calls. Who has reached out to you during this scary time? Keep those names and numbers around. Those are true friends. Those are thoughtful souls. Send them a message right now to let them know you love them. Ask them how they’re doing. Next time you see them, let your hug linger, and thank them for their friendship.
Now the hard part. Time to rid your life of the toxic. Not just the toxic chemicals and sugars and clutter. But the people. Who has shown you they don’t care, they never did care? Who are the true viruses in your life? Who infects you with self-doubt, disappointment? You probably knew all along, but this just sealed the deal. Go ahead, delete those names from your mind. It’s the end of the world, anyway, and who has time for fake friends?
Finally, the crucial step in spring transformation. What thoughts and beliefs are dead and rotten, needing to be cleared away for bright ideas to bloom? What have you learned from this process? Maybe that political policy you thought was crazy isn’t so crazy after all. Maybe it’s not so hard to use rags instead of paper towel or avoid single-use plastic. Maybe it’s time to make your voice heard, to never miss a single election. To put a little bit of money into a campaign you believe in. To save your spring rainy day pennies for those who are less fortunate than you.
Clutter can be toxic. It weighs us down. It wastes our time.
But clutter is more than physical stuff. It’s the busy work that stresses our minds. It’s the over-filled calendar of events that pulls us away from our families. It’s the misinformation that causes us to believe lies. It’s the advertising that tells us we can’t be happy unless we buy products. It’s the people who don’t reciprocate in relationships, who clutter our hearts with sadness. It’s the political ideologies that lure us with promises never meant to be kept, scare tactics that cause us to turn on each other.
There’s no time like the present to clear our lives and minds and hearts from the clutter that’s been obstructing us from living our best lives, being our best selves.
Let’s spring clean the clutter from our lives, so when the sun does shine again, beautiful things have room to blossom.
We have been given the gift of time. Let’s reflect on what’s important and what’s not.
As I sit in my home office, listening to the sound of my husband’s ZOOM phone calls blasting on speakerphone, I try to write another ten pages of a new project I started last week. Except, I keep thinking about how much I don’t want to write this particular project. Is it because it’s hard to concentrate in my suddenly loud house? Or is it because I know I have less than three months before two wailing newborns take up all of my time and energy? Or is it because it feels like the end of the world, and I’m feeling compelled to prioritize what truly matters over what doesn’t?
While we all shelter-in-place, some might find they’re more distracted than ever — by the non-stop news, by their attention-seeking children, by their anxiety and fear — and others might feel they suddenly have time to think about the meaning of life.
Personally, I can’t help but to reflect on my own values and philosophy right now. I’m reminded of my years as a high school English teacher, specifically when I taught an existentialism unit to my seniors. Literature prepares us for times like this by putting the reader into fictional circumstances and forcing us to ask, “What would I do?”
My seniors and I read literature that often asked the questions, “What is the meaning of life?” “How do we continue on during times of war and devastation?” Reading Hamlet, Siddhartha, Night, Oedipus, Antigone, and “The Myth of Sisyphus” allowed us to consider what we found truly important.
Although burdened with the monotony and pain of life, Sisyphus still remained joyful as he hoisted his boulder up the hill daily. Eliezer from Night survived the Holocaust and still found meaning in life. He had a joyful existence despite suffering through torturous conditions. Hamlet constantly questioned if life was worth living, and in the end, chose not to avenge his father’s death until he was certain murder was moral and meaningful. Oedipus wrestled with the question of fate and freewill, learning that life is determined by fate. Antigone died because she believed morals and family are more important than laws and government. Siddhartha found the true path to wisdom is experience, and life’s greatest meaning is to love. And King Arthur’s men loyally lived and fought for their beliefs: to serve their king and religion.
So what will we learn?
Now is not the time to be glued to our phones scrolling through mind-numbing news and memes; it’s time to consider our values and our beliefs.
What is important? What truly matters?
Thrown into a sudden recession, we’re all filled with uncertainty. Attacked by an invisible enemy, we’re all filled with fear. And sheltering-in-place means we aren’t able to turn to creature comforts, shopping the latest sales at Target to silence our anxious voices within.
We’re forced to be alone with our thoughts. We’re forced to reexamine our lives.
So what is worth our time? And what isn’t? Because that’s all we’re given at this moment: the gift of time. How do we spend it wisely?
I’ve learned to take a step back and scrutinize my life goals, since no matter how hard I work, how focused I am, how long I visualize success, I might not ever achieve those goals. A recession is good at helping you realize you don’t have as much control over your life as you’d previously thought.
But maybe I’ve been defining success all wrong. Maybe success isn’t defined by my job title, the amount of money in my bank account, or credits on my IMDB page.
Maybe success is learning that I already have everything I need. Maybe success is developing the ability to stand tall and firm during a tempest. Learning when to hold on, and when to let go. Maybe success is finding moments of joy hidden within hours of sorrow. Maybe success is loving and accepting yourself for exactly who you are, and not what you’ve accomplished and accumulated.
And maybe success is being able to look at your own character and be proud of how you react to uncertain times and desperate situations. How you treated other people — if you became a helper or a hoarder. After all, as readers and writers we’ve learned that character equals choice under pressure. Who we are is how we react during times of stress, joy, and devastation.
That’s what matters to me: who I am, rather than what I have. Job descriptions, trophies, awards, and material possessions don’t matter to me. Family, friends, and faith do.
Once we’re out of the woods, after the pandemic is under control and the service industry reopens its doors, things might not look the same. So I turn to minimalism, Taoism, and my Christian faith to calm me.
Minimalism tells me I don’t need many material possessions to be happy, and I don’t need to fill every moment with distractions to feel secure. All I have is all I need.
Taoism reminds me that “A way of life that keeps saying, ‘Around the next corner, above the next step,’ works against the natural order of things and makes it so difficult to be happy and good that only a few get to where they would naturally have been in the first place — Happy and Good — …” (The Tao of Pooh, Benjamin Hoff). I don’t have to constantly climb some arbitrary mountain of goals and accomplishments to reach the peak where Happiness, Fulfillment, Satisfaction are rumored to wait for me. I can choose to be fulfilled despite never taking a single step.
And my Christian faith says God is not canceled. God will never leave or forsake me. No matter what, He holds me in the palm of His hand. Despite tumultuous storms of self-doubt, God will take care of me. He finds me worthy of His love even if I own nothing or have failed to accomplish any of my goals.
If, during this unprecedented time, I cannot do, then I can only just be. And my being can either make the world better or worse. It’s my choice. I will choose to make the world better. I will choose to be grateful and hopeful despite uncertainty. I will choose what matters and disregard what doesn’t.
And I will keep my chin up, always looking forward, as I rejoice by living in the moment.
The robins have begun their early morning chatter. Sitting on my windowsill at four a.m., they sing to each other. Hopping about aggressively on the lawn throughout the day, sending angry stares my way, they’re not only marking their territory, but also the first signs of spring.
My soul sings in harmony when I hear them call out after the sun has gone down; it reminds me of summer nights, when wildlife comes alive, slinking and flittering across my backyard.
Dew begins to replace frost. Pewter skies, heavy with snow clouds, drift away. Rain clouds emerge to give life to the earth. Tulips and daffodil stems burst through thawed dirt, reaching toward the sun.
Despite current events, media cacophony, and human panic, spring has still arrived.
Nature heals itself, starting anew.
The earth is born again. And we can be too.
Winter’s gone and spring is here. Let’s celebrate.
“What we want to see on the page is a strong woman.”
“A strong female lead, exactly. You need to write your female characters as strong women.”
Isabelle nods on the other line, even though her producers can’t see her. Cradling her cell against her shoulder, she wipes green vomit from the toilet bowl. Her back is killing her as she rises — too many nights rocking her baby to sleep or squeezing next to her toddler on the twin bed — repeating back to the two male voices on the other end. She imagines they’re staring through windows with breathtaking views of the sparkling Pacific Ocean. “Okay, got it. A strong female lead.”
In one swift motion she throws the vomit-soaked wipe into the diaper pail, then rips the heavy garbage bag from the container, lugging it over her shoulder. “And what exactly do you mean by ‘strong woman’?” she asks, opening the back door to throw the garbage bag onto the snow-covered deck. She’ll carry it to the alley garbage can later.
One answers, “A strong woman. A woman who is ambitious and driven, incredibly confident and alluring.”
“And sexy, of course,” says the other producer, lustfully.
When she hears whimpering coming from upstairs, Isabelle winces. She races up the stairs on her tip-toes, hoping not to wake the baby as she passes her room, headed toward her three-year-old sister’s room, who’s sick with the flu. “Sure, I understand. Are you thinking she’s corporate?” Isabelle clicks “mute” on her cell phone as she attends to her weepy, pale daughter, the garbage bin next to her bed already filled with more vomit.
The producers respond.
“Oh, most definitely. Rising to the top — if not the top of her game.”
“Yeah, the type of woman who wears pencil skirts and pumps. She’s beautiful but her eyes are intimidating — she’ll steal that client right from under you. Ruthless. Masculine.”
As the producers continue to describe their idea of a strong woman, Isabelle sees a text come through her phone. It’s from her brother: “Mom asked me to take her to her chemo appointments, but I’ve got a job to go to every day, Isa. Can’t you take her?” Isabelle cringes. Her brother has never respected her full time free-lance job, which she somehow juggles with two kids at home. Not to mention, she’s been taking her mother to her chemo appointments every week for the past year, ever since she was pregnant with her second.
“We want our female leads to encapsulate that hash tag — what is it Robert?”
“Hashtag boss bitch,” Robert answers Rupert.
Quickly unmuting, Isabelle responds, “Girl boss?”
Robert disagrees. “I like boss bitch better.”
“Me too. I’m also thinking she’s not interested in kids. Or a husband. She doesn’t need anyone. Doesn’t depend on anyone,” Rupert adds. “None of this gender role garbage.”
Isabelle kisses her daughter’s forehead, watching as she closes her eyes and drifts off to sleep. Silently swiping the garbage full of puke, Isabelle leaves the room. “Okay, but you want her to fall in love with the male lead, right?”
“Of course,” says Rupert.
“But they’re competing for the same role. And man, is she catty. But he likes that. She’s just as power-hungry as he is,” says Robert.
As she dashes down the stairs, she passes the front room, sees FedEx pull up to the house. Don’t ring the doorbell! She hurries to the door, catches him just before his finger touches the button that will disrupt her only chance to take phone calls. He hands her a package. “It’s heavy,” he tells her, but she snatches it with one hand.
“Thanks,” she mouths, grabbing the rest of the mail in the mailbox. One piece of mail is from World Vision, thanking her for her generous donation to children in impoverished countries.
“Yeah, of course, she’ll figure out that money isn’t everything,” Rupert says, and Robert quickly adds, “Even though it is,” and they laugh together.
“She wants love too.” Rupert says. “She’ll just have to learn to take a backseat to get it.”
Robert agrees. “Exactly. So, to sum up, an ambitious, career-driven bitch who, wearing heels, can outrun a dinosaur.” Rupert laughs at that one as Isabelle drops the package on the dining room table and carries the garbage to the bathroom, rinsing the vomit in the sink.
After a pause, Robert asks, “What do you think, Isabelle? How do you define a strong woman?”
Isabelle thinks for a moment, then takes a long look in the mirror. “How do I define a strong woman?” she repeats, a slight smile on her face as she takes in all that she is — dark circles under her eyes, grey streaks through her hair, a muffin top, a spit-up stained sweater. “A woman who doesn’t let herself be defined by anyone at all.”
After that, Rupert and Robert are speechless for a moment. Finally, one of them says, “Great. Why don’t you get us that page-one rewrite by the end of the week.”
“No problem,” Isabelle says, hanging up. Just then, the baby cries, and she’s off to the races again.