Just like you, I’ve spent the last few weeks under the “stay-at-home” order. That brings travel, even within Texas, to a halt. So, this month’s column will have to originate right here at home. I guess we’re used to that by now.
If I were still working my day job, I’d be thrilled to have this time shut up at home, no commute nightmares, no time wasted on pointless meetings and social chitchat. I could do my work and then get on with life. But given that I’m retired, “stay-at-home” is just life as usual. Well, with one exception: my wife is at home now too, so I can have fun chasing her around the house. Other than harassing Jill, I read, write, take online classes, and more recently, study other people’s reactions to the stay-at-home situation.
You don’t have to look far to find people who are scared or depressed. Bad news is all around us, especially if you are near a TV. We hear the constant drumbeat of the dangers of the disease and the effect on the economy. We sometimes wonder whether the precautions we are taking will really protect us. For some, unemployment and money in general have become huge issues. That is absolutely understandable and certainly no one could be blamed for feeling that way. But if we let ourselves get too wrapped up in thoughts of this kind, we just might miss out on an opportunity we may never see again.
For most people, the act of being at home constantly is an entirely new experience and I have been fascinated by the reactions I have been seeing. I regularly look at the “Next Door” conversations that show up in my email box and have seen discussions about what people are doing to pass the time, how they are entertaining the kids, what they most want to do when things get back to normal, and lots of questions about where toilet paper can be found. One man went so far as to state that he has just discovered he has no life outside of work. The overall gist of these discussions seems to be that people feel trapped at home, deprived of the places and things they love and are just plain bored.
Boredom is not something I can discuss with any degree of authority. I can honestly say, it is a state that I have never experienced. Oh, I’ve been to places, and especially meetings, where all I could think about was where I wanted to be instead, but I was never bored. And I can’t imagine being bored now even under these circumstances. But I can understand a couple of other instances where staying at home would be less-than-pleasant.
For many teenagers, for example, a death sentence would be preferable to being forced to spend time with the family. I know it was for me. I can understand their reaction. And then there are people with a passel of kids. Having them at home 24-7 not only causes a huge jump in the grocery bill but also tends to drive Mom and Dad crazy. Beyond these two situations, though, I’m puzzled as to why anyone would not love the opportunity we are being given here.
If you are working from home, you have probably realized you now have more time on your hands these days because there is no commute, meetings are fewer and everything around us—be it work or grocery shopping—is being simplified by force or by choice. Every time we simplify something in our lives, we get back more time, a little extra chunk of our lives (Thank you, Henry David Thoreau). What a gift this extra time is. And if you are not working at all, you have really hit the jackpot (well, maybe not financially, but certainly time-wise).
The way we choose to spend this extra time will make a huge difference in how happy we are now, given what is going on around us, and will have a great effect on our futures as well. This is an opportunity to slow down, to look around, to enjoy our homes and gardens, and maybe to take a good, long look at ourselves and our families.
Aristotle said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” We have a chance right now to do that and more. We can re-evaluate our lives, where we’ve been and where we want to go. There are some simple questions that can help the process along. Is what I’m doing really important? Is this really the way I want to spend my life? Are changes in order?
Now is the time to read a great book, take an online course, or better yet, get outside and work on building your little Eden in the backyard. Carl Jung tells us we all are born with and treasure the archetype of the garden because it is the part of us that “remembers” who we are and where we came from. But keep in mind, Eden is more than just that physical garden. It is the total package that is your life: the things you do, the places you go, the people you love. It is your idea of who and what you really are. Now is the time to work on that! These actions will not only fill in this trying time with pleasant activities, they will also pay dividends later.
This is also a time to pamper ourselves, to engage in things that make us contented, relaxed, happy. For some, this may be the first chance they’ve ever had to find out what those things are.
I suspect that when this is over, we will see a few changes in the world. The obvious one, of course, will be a new baby boom. Beyond that, many older workers who have experienced COVID will, for the first time, come to realize just how much work has interfered with the everyday business of life and we will see a plethora of retirements. Others will have learned that being home was a nightmare they don’t want to relive and they will decide they never want to retire. We will probably all wear longer hair, at least till the barber and beauty shops reopen. And I’m sure we will see a new appreciation for all the small businesses we have taken for granted for years—our favorite restaurants, bars, and shops.
But most of all I really believe that we—all of us—will, if we use this time wisely, be changed in character and spirit in a positive way. In the words of Lucas Nelson (yep, Willie’s son), “Turn off the news, and build a garden.” Make it that little Eden you really deserve.