What is the perfect gift for a one-year pandemic anniversary?
Traditionally, folks would give something made of paper. I guess because couples who’d been married only one year didn’t have enough money for anything better. Or maybe because that was what they considered the true value of a one-year commitment. More modern gift registries recommend a clock for commemorating the one-year milestone. Well, I wonder how modern the people are who put together those registries, because I seem to be the only person I know who has (and wants) a clock in every room. Everyone else just looks at their phones, which seems to me an extra effort. First, you have to pull your phone out of your pocket. Then, wake it up. To check the time on my kitchen wall clock or my digital desk clock, all I have to do is glance in its direction. But I digress. This essay isn’t about the value of clocks.
Of course, now that I think of it, a clock would be a rather appropriate present for a pandemic one-year anniversary. For the past twelve months, time moved in bone-jarring jerks, sometimes feeling like a runaway train about to plow me under, then suddenly morphing into a slo-mo nightmare of trying to run in molasses. The gift of a clock would be an acknowledgement that, any day now, time will resume its usual tick-tock rhythms, marking seconds, hours and days with a uniform regularity.
However, not only do I not need another clock in my life, I have already received the perfect anniversary gift – courtesy of hours spent lurking on hospital and pharmacy websites, plus a good measure of dumb luck. The world’s gift to me last Friday was my second Moderna vaccine.
I never thought I be so happy to be shot in the arm, but I’m nervous, too. Soon, I’ll be re-entering a world that’s certainly not the same one I locked my doors against twelve months ago. Nor am I the same person.
This morning, during a break in our daily Zoom exercise, my friend Saroj asked me what this Covid isolation had given me. Suddenly, I was looking at the past year through an entirely different lens – not one of deprivation and loneliness or dangers and deaths, but of introspection. How have I been changed? Who will I be as I walk away from my safe bunker into a strange new world? What do I want to take with me from this past year?
In response to Saroj’s question, I reached deep within myself, and staring back at me was a self-portrait I’d never before seen. This stranger’s gaze was direct and assured, clearly a woman of strength. Maybe under all my insecurities and fears, I had always been strong. But I had never seen it or lived it. Uncertain how just a transformation had taken place, I looked deeper, and there they were, standing beside me, smiling at me reassuringly – my isolation gifts whom I will treasure the rest of my life – my friends.
Last March, I had retreated to my home in the Pennsylvania Pocono Mountains, shutting the door on the horrors of the pandemic. My life became one of stark loneliness. For months at a time, the only living creature I saw was my dog Shayna, other than the occasional Instacart delivery man when I happened to glance outside as he drove off.
But offsetting that loneliness was the rich intimacy of personal Zoom meetings. Specifically, my morning exercise sessions with Lee and Saroj, and my monthly meetings with fellow writers Lawrence, Barbara, Buck and Tim. Not that they hadn’t been good friends before, but the quality of the friendships have changed, and I believe a good portion of the reason for that has to do with the nature of Zoom.
Zooming from our private spaces, removed completely from the world’s distractions, we stared into an illuminated screen that was brighter and more alive than anything else in the room. For the couple of hours of our meetings, we focused fully on each other, listening, and sharing. Zooming is a quiet, almost restricted experience, that forced us to slow down, and just be together. What’s more, I felt seen and respected by folks I deeply respect. I even felt comfortable asking for help when I needed it, something that had always been difficult for me. And as soon as they knew what I needed, they rallied. With such good and generous friends supporting and believing in me, how could I not feel strong and clear-eyed?
In two weeks, Shayna and I will be leaving this house, to re-enter the world, with all its distractions and the strangeness of whatever life will now become. Time is going to resume its relentless, regular rhythms, and demand that I fill every moment with productivity and activity. I’m going to have to relearn how to balance deadlines with seeing family and friends, shopping for my own groceries, and simply getting from point A to point B to achieve whatever it is that can be done only at point B. Will there ever be enough hours in the day to deal with all that life will require of me?
Amidst all the physical and emotional bombardments, I’ll inevitably stumble, and the old fears and insecurities will win sway – hopefully only occasionally. To help me, I am going to do my darnedest to hold onto that feeling of Lee and Saroj, Lawrence, Barbara, Buck and Tim standing with me, believing in me. And, heck, when things get too hectic, nothing says that we can’t slow down the clock periodically so we can retreat to more quiet, focused times together on Zoom. That realization is another gift I received.
What gifts did this year give you? What do you want to take with you from this experience when you re-enter the world?