The Little Gifts of “Sheltering in Place”

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I’ve been surprised that despite my resistance, there have been some little points of light to our “Shelter in Place” order here in New York.  I’m not ready to take the Gwyneth Paltrow line about how social isolation is a good time to learn a new language or skill, like knitting.  However, I have been pleased about some good things that have come from our collective quarantine in New York over the last month, as we strengthen ourselves for another month, or more, of isolation.  

Let me be clear–I do not wish in any way to minimize the suffering and death of those impacted by Covid-19. I have not lost individual friends or loved ones–yet. I do know folks who’ve battled the disease, and I shiver with the death tolls around the world. Nor do I want to ignore the heroic work of health care workers and first responders who are trying to save lives while putting their own in jeopardy. 

And, while there are obviously many downsides to being under house arrest, of sorts, here are 10 things that have been little bits of light in the pandemic…some are important, others silly. 

  1. Connecting and Reconnecting with People.  For much of my life I thought I was a loner, but I’m old enough and wise enough to know that isn’t true.  My lovely housemates have scattered to various corners of the globe, so I am knocking about here on my own.  There are a handful of my closest loved ones that I speak with on the phone at least once a day.  I call them “wellness checks.”  But all kinds of social barriers have come down during this time of isolation—when I posted on Facebook that I was lonesome, people from many chapters my life raised their hand. I’ve had conversations (text and phone) with people I literally haven’t spoken to in decades! It’s fantastic.  I’ve talked with young and old and even served as a third-party facilitator, connecting others!  That’s right…I’m a pandemic matchmaker.  I was able to link two of my late mother’s friends, whose daughters remain important to me.   One of the “moms” is alone in an assisted-living facility.  I thought it was especially important for her to hear from some folks beyond her family. 

  2. Submitting to my Body’s Natural Rhythms.  I’m not sure if this is a good or bad thing—but it is a real thing in my life.   Working exclusively as a Celebrant for the last couple of years, I haven’t been tethered to a traditional 9-to-5 schedule.  Now, in “quarantine,” my routine is completely fluid.  There is something decadent about staying up late, getting up late, taking naps, having work intermissions in the middle of the night, and so on.  I don’t think I’m sleeping any more than before the pandemic, but the patterns remind me of my animal nature—I think of my old dog Suki who would luxuriate in a nap as she basked in the sun, followed by a frolicking squirrel run in the back yard, dinner, and then another nap.   Anyone else experiencing the same?

  3. Civics Lessons.  I write this post as I listen to the daily news conference of my boyfriend New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.  I have always been a political junkie and have long been a student of gubernatorial leadership.  So, I find it fantastic that the governors (and mayors and others, of course) are stepping up to meet this crisis head on, receiving the attention and praise they deserve.  Don’t get me wrong, I would rather see a strong, unified federal government response to this epidemic, but this has been an interesting time to revisit our Founders’ vision about the role of federalism in our American democratic experiment.   And many local and state officials have done our Founder Fathers (and Mothers) proud. 

  4. Making Small Rituals Despite our Shared Isolation.  Being a Celebrant, I’m all about daily rituals.  I can’t say that I have adopted an ashram-worthy set of practices, but there are a few new things that I enjoy.  First, I always have at least one candle burning.  Whether writing, reading, binge-watching MSNBC or Netflix, I have a candle going.  It somehow connects me with the Divine.  Likewise, I’m all in on the 7 p.m. daily cheer routine of New Yorkers, hanging out their windows and giving encouragement to the health care workers, first responders and others who are saving lives, while risking their own. 

  5. Heightened Sense of Community.  Covid-19 is a great equalizer.  We now know that it is impacting “regular” Americans, as well as celebrities, athletes, members of the British Royal Family, intellectuals, artists, and politicians, among others.  It is a tie that binds us and something we are sharing with all those we connect with—online or in real life.  When we ask that social throw away line, “How are you?” it now has much more meaning, these days. 

  6. Parsimony.  As I am essentially unemployed and under house arrest, daily luxuries are gone.  No more hair appointments, manicures, or dinners out.   While money isn’t coming in, it isn’t going out as fast either.  As I plow my way through the pantry (with impressive vigor, I might add), I am rather pleased with myself.  I’m feeling in touch with my inner Little House on the Prairie sensibility of “making do with what I have.” 
  7. Time for Creativity.   Between my own laziness and lack of space, my creative pursuits have been anemic over the last few years.  With housemates back in Europe, I must confess I’ve set up an Easter cardmaking factory in the apartment common room.  I haven’t wallowed in so much card stock and ribbon in years, and I couldn’t be happier about that.  And after Easter/Passover has concluded, I will start on Mother’s Day cards for my U.S. moms! 
  8. Enjoying a Simple Walk.  I’ve always liked wandering my city by foot.  And, these days a stroll cannot be taken for granted.  My universe has become very small, the Financial District and South Street Seaport area are the only spots I visit now.  However, as a new resident to this neighborhood, I’m happy to be learning more about the oldest part of New York City. 

  9. The Pleasure of Getting Organized.  I haven’t adopted the KonMari method, but I have made time to try to establish a little more order in my life.  I have a rather chaotic state of nature and moving so many times over the last few years has only exacerbated that.  So this forced pause is a time to order the “stuff” that surrounds me.  Yesterday, for instance, I organized old copies of wedding licenses in preparation of digitizing them.  It was a chance to stroll down memory lane and think about couples who’ve no.w been married for many years and have built families and interesting lives.
  10. Interior Work/Preparing for the Holidays.  Like many, I admit that I’m the kind of person who sometimes looks for external things to “complete” me whether it’s a new outfit or trip or gourmet meal.  But when you are trapped in your apartment it reinforces the idea that this is all an “inside job.”  It’s not lost on me, also, that this “shelter in place” command is in the middle of the Easter holidays, as well as Passover.  And in a few short weeks, our Muslim brothers and sisters will observe the contemplative time of Ramadan.   Early on during this quarantine, I came across this poem on social media.  It really resonates with me.  Lynn Ungar is a Unitarian Universalist minister:


What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
Center down.

And when your body has become
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.

Promise this world your love–
for better or for worse
in sick and in health
so long as we all shall live.

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