Dear Future Self,
If you’re reading this, you’re not in quarantine anymore. Coronavirus infections have subsided, widespread testing is available, and we’re free to move about as we once did. We’re free to gather with family and friends. We’re able to shop in stores without masks, and social distancing. We’re able to go back to our jobs. We can travel like we once did. Life is (mostly) back to normal.
Except I hope it’s not.
The months (at this point, it looks like months) that we spent staying at home were incredibly difficult. I don’t think I’ll ever be a homeschooler. The kids were super dysregulated and as the weeks went on, difficult to motivate. We read too much news and learned new terms, like PPE, “flattening the curve,” and droplet transmission. At our Zoom happy hours and furtive, across-the-fence conversations, coronavirus was all we talked about. Our family ultimately, adjusted to being together all the time, but it wasn’t pretty. The kids didn’t leave our neighborhood for months. People lost their jobs, saw their small businesses crater, and their savings disappear. Not faraway people, either. People I know personally, and care about.
It was like the world was in a bunker together, waiting for the coast to be clear.
But I also saw some things that I desperately don’t want to evaporate like the coronavirus. I saw people staying home to protect themselves, but also, other people. I saw our family calendar shrink to nothing. No obligations. Our routine became schooling, eating together, spending time outside together, and winding down for bed together. We played games. We cooked together. And we gave to others.
I saw friends and people in the community rally to help children, and senior citizens, Native American tribe members, and mothers recovering from substance abuse. I recall driving back over the 520 bridge after delivering one of two carloads full of donated coloring books and non-perishable foods and feeling like I might burst with joy. It wasn’t a self-congratulatory joy, though. It was a feeling that I can’t put into words.
There’s something truly magnificent, truly transcendent when people come together for a common goal. During our quarantine, I was constantly blow away by how my friends and friends of friends and people I didn’t even know stepped up to help. Every time I
opened my front door, I’d find a new batch of donated items. Beautiful, heartfelt artwork and letters for isolated seniors at retirement homes. Bag after bag of sanitary supplies for women of the Hoh tribe. Donated coolers so that staff at Compass Housing Alliance could deliver sack lunches to children. Used towels so that the homeless can shower. It buoyed me, Future Self. It gave me so much hope.
It wasn’t just the grand gestures, either. It was the little ones. I talked to my parents more often during our self-quarantine. “We don’t hear from very many people these days,” my mom told me. “So it just makes your day.” A friend shared her sourdough starter, Clint Yeastwood, and I made kick-ass pancakes for my ungrateful children. An acquaintance that I’ve wanted to know better dropped off flowers and a sweet note on my doorstep, thanking me for the work I’m doing in the community. The next day, our dear friends brought another batch of flowers, just because. And on my friend’s 50th birthday, I took part in a birthday parade (another new term). I would have done it during normal times, but in normal times, the drive would take 45 minutes, and I’d be harried. During the pandemic, I got there in 20 minutes and joined a string of exuberant people in Redmond on a Monday with one goal: To celebrate our friend.
So, no. I don’t want to go back to a world where I’m in my own head, overreacting to what now feels like small slights and insignificant issues. I want to take this feeling that I have now and hold on to some of it. I don’t want to go back to shopping for sport, or taking friendships and family for granted. I don’t want to go back to a packed schedule, with activities and lessons and endless social obligations. I want to be more thoughtful about how I choose to spend my time.
I hope, Future Self, that you’re not buried in some never-ending to-do list or frantic over some self-imposed deadline. I hope that you’ve managed to maintain some of the good feelings that manifested during this very scary time. There were bright lights during the darkness, connections made that deserve to be cherished. Because right now, thousands of people are dying. Elderly people, young people, grocery workers, bus drivers. And these people are dying alone. So don’t make this terrible time be for naught. Let it have meant something.