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.