Even though this lockdown is not the first of the pandemic, it seems the hardest. For good reason: it’s been a long, tough winter; the news briefly gets better and then quickly gets much worse; the warm weather is slow to arrive, and there is no reason to think we are about to put this virus to rest anytime soon. I read the case numbers in my community every afternoon, and they just keep going up. Daily, I count how much longer until May 20 (at which point, we might just be told we are locked down for another month), and every day it’s just one day less.
Last year at this time, being stuck at home was a novelty and we were all sure that by summer – fall at the absolute latest – we’d be back to life as we knew and liked it. After all, that’s what our fearless political leaders told us.
By now, most of us realize that the politicians don’t know much more than we do. Their promises that we are all in this together and that it will soon be over are fewer and less overtly cheerful. Who believes them anyway?
From coping to languishing
Our early coping strategies don’t work anymore. In those first weeks and months, I cooked and baked my way to cheerfulness. Now, despite our serious over-eating last winter and spring, the freezer is full of leftover meals and my jeans are too tight. My partner and I are steadily eating our way through those leftovers, and I am wearing sweatpants until the stores open up and I can buy some new jeans.
(Rest assured that I still have standards. I wear what I refer to as my dress sweatpants when I am working, saving the casual ones for when I am not and the really sloppy ones for sleeping – although, it must be said, I have occasionally worn the sleeping sweatpants on my early morning walks.)
The novelty of endless television watching – certainly, a fantasy of mine from childhood when both the quantity and substance of our TV viewing was rigidly controlled by my mother – came to an end long ago. That puzzle I was sure we would put together in a week has sat without attention for months. All those self-improvement activities I was going to take up – yoga, painting, learning Spanish – remain largely unexplored.
The Guardian’s restaurant critic Grace Dent wrote in a recent essay:
“[A]lthough the pandemic has been cruel and frightening in a thousand ways, one tiny, shining light of joy is how it has permitted us time off from trying to be better. Who among us hasn’t eaten chocolate spread straight out of the jar and mistaken it for love?”
Dent has ambitious plans for herself post-lockdown: walking or running a minimum of five miles a day, hydrating herself vigilantly and spending her early mornings “manifesting growth and whispering personal affirmations.”
I am not aiming quite that high. My post-pandemic hopes – and I have a lot of them – are not focused on self-improvement and involve no early morning whisperings other than to my cat. Rather, I spend my time anticipating getting back into the world.
What will it look like?
I have spent the winter creating dinner party menus, so I am ready for the first opportunity when we can have friends over for dinner. The dishes and wine glasses are practically begging to be brought out of the cupboards, and the dozens of candles I bought recently would love to be lit.
If we are out of lockdown by early July, my partner and I will be enjoying two weeks in the small house we’ve rented close to friends we have not seen for nearly a year. I will finally be able to visit my mother, who may well not know who I am after so long, and my siblings, who I am pretty sure will remember who I am.
The Yukon premier announced yesterday that the territory will be lifting the two-week quarantine for visitors who have had both doses of the vaccine – maybe we’ll be able to reactivate the trip to Yukon we had planned for last spring and summer.
I’ve talked to a musician friend, who tells me he will put together a gang of his pals for a backyard show as soon as we are allowed to gather in larger numbers.
After refusing to look ahead as far as next winter, a few weeks ago I decided to be hopeful and rented a house in San Miguel for the months of February and March.
What I try not to think about, just because I want it so badly, is returning to in-person work. I can hardly bear to imagine the joy of chatting with a colleague while I stand in the doorway of her office or while we have lunch together, doing strategic planning and board development work with an organization’s staff and board without having to look at them in those damn little Zoom squares, and driving through northern Ontario on my way to or from a work gig.
In the meantime
While we wait (and wait) for those days to come, there are still walks around my neighbourhood where, every day, the gardens are more beautiful. On my walk along the river yesterday I saw a great blue heron only a few feet away from me, swans squabbling by the shoreline and two proud goose parents showing off their three goslings.
The asparagus is now officially up in our garden, and I think we are going to eat the first few stalks later today. I have a recipe for rhubarb upside down cake marked because it won’t be long till there’s enough in the garden for that. (And, please, does anyone know what this flower is called?)
I may have worn the same clothes for four days in a row this week (to my credit, I am wearing dress sweatpants), but I know there’s lots of hope to be had, and I am looking hard for it every day..