This time last year, I was studying abroad in Bristol, England. Time was slowly crawling towards Christmas, and all those old English streets were decorated with lights that shone down on people high on the magic in the air. We were all enraptured, joyous, excited.
These are feelings that have seemed increasingly more and more elusive in the last eight months. Now, I’ll admit that I haven’t had the blues too badly — I’ve had to actively build my mental armor so as to not fall into a depressive downward spiral. But I think there would be something wrong with you if you haven’t occasionally been gripped by the darkness of a world going through an almost year-long pandemic.
For me, it’s always worse late at night, when I stop moving long enough to realize just how much I miss the little things. The normal things. Like leaning against the nightclub bar counter as you and your friends impatiently wait for your drinks so you can go back to the dance floor. Staying in pubs past 10 p.m., talking and laughing until you leave on your own accord and hit up another spot, still booming with just as much life and energy. Going on the stereotypical movie date. Being able to shake a stranger’s hand when they introduce themselves to you. Hugging a relative you haven’t seen in a long time.
These are the things I think about right before I fall asleep. In fact, it’s been the only way I can fall asleep lately. Every single night, just like a movie I watch in my mind’s eye, I go through all the memories of my three beautiful months in Bristol, incredulous of the discrepancy between how things used to be and how they are now.
I think most of us want to cross these days off and have them pass us by as quickly as possible. I know I do. But, at the same time, if we take a moment to stop silently raging against the absurdity of our circumstance, we’ll find that these, too, are days we’ll miss.
We’ll Miss Having The Time For Introspection
“Stress and confusion come from being busy. Peace and clarity come from slowing down and stilling your waters.” — Maxime Lagacé
Of course, for some, like parents and our incredible healthcare workers, the pandemic has made life even more hectic. But for a vast majority of us, there’s been the opportunity to stop and spend time with ourselves, observe our own inner lives, and open up the box of thoughts and emotions that we had buried away. Whether it’s been utilized or not, the opportunity has been there.
It’s hard to crystallize what we really want in life when we’re constantly on the go and being bombarded by the demands of everyday life. But in solitude and calm, we can come to an understanding of our deepest desires and values so we can be sure that, when we go out and face the world again, we’re not mindlessly chasing after the wrong things.
We’ll Miss The Extra Energy Of A Slower Life
“Busyness makes us stop caring about the things we care about.” — Mark Buchanan
Quarantine has introduced its own brand of stress and that can’t be denied. But for those of us whose lives have slowed down, we might’ve realized that we have been rushing through life and constantly carrying the stress of the rapidity with which it moved. Our bodies have now had the opportunity to rest and recuperate. Our minds have had the opportunity to catch up to our bodies. Our priorities have become more clear. A lot of concerns have increased, but quite a few have decreased as well.
Consumerism has gone down; we’ve become more aware of the fact that material objects might bring us instant gratification but don’t lead to lasting happiness or fulfillment. Similarly, some of us might’ve realized that we’ve been preoccupied with external appearances more than we’ve needed to. Instead, we’ve taken up major ethical, political, and environmental issues and made strides toward change. We’ve continued to shed light on the enduring realities of racial injustice, the implications of climate change, and the importance of just political systems.
These causes that we have dedicated time and energy to have benefited from the fact that we’ve had extra time and energy to dedicate. When life is so hectic that we feel as though we’re drowning in our own worries, we are less likely to be inclined to tend to the issues that don’t immediately affect our own bubble. Everyday stressors start to seem more pressing instead.
We’ll Miss Feeling Less Pressure on Ourselves
“Great men are like eagles, and build their nest on some lofty solitude.” — Arthur Schopenhauer
Once we go back to having to perform in front of watching eyes, we’ll crave the comfort and tranquility of our living rooms. Because in quarantine, we’re allowed to feel like crap and underperform. We’re allowed to start drinking at noon and binge on food and Netflix shows. We’re allowed to make excuses for ourselves, and here’s the thing — those excuses are valid.
That’s exactly what makes excuses so sinister: they’re valid. But once the pandemic ends, we’ll have to set them aside, enter the playing field, and do our thing in front of watching eyes. We’ll have constant reminders that there are people in our respective areas who are better than us, people who are doing and achieving more. That external pressure to match up will set back in. We won’t like remembering all the ways in which we’re not yet good enough. Add to the mix the stressors of our fast-paced world and you can see why the ease of quarantine stay-at-home days could seem so enticing.
Let me clarify that I believe pressure can be beneficial and is actually necessary for high-achievers. Don’t mistake my words — I’m not advocating a life of mediocrity and comfort. What I do want to say is that you have two choices now: you can look at quarantine as a time of utter boredom and uneventfulness or as a special opportunity to work on and improve your craft away from prying eyes. Away from external pressure and judgment. And to appreciate the vacuum of time and energy that’s been created to enable you to do that.
We’ll Miss How Connection Felt More Special
“The business of life is human connection.” — Robin Sharma
I think one of the most important things that have come out of this whole situation is the realization of just how much we need one another. Human connection is a deep, emotional necessity that affects our entire quality of life. Each one of us is just one thread in a large, glorious tapestry, and without one another, we fall apart. Disconnection has allowed us to see that and to value our relationships perhaps more than we used to when life was so busy.
We’ve reached out to people we haven’t talked to in months or even years. Or they’ve reached out to us. Yes, relationships have fallen apart, but broken relationships have also been mended. Old wounds have been healed. Past mistakes glossed over. I’ve experienced this first-hand in my family.
Once the ‘busyness’ of life is kicked back into gear, will we remember to send “How are you doing? I miss you” texts? Will we remember to tell our loved ones how much we cherish them? To Skype the friend that lives halfway across the world? I hope, for all of our sakes, that we do.
Let us not forget how one of the worst parts of this whole fiasco was that we all felt so isolated from one another. How much we craved human touch. The presence of someone who cares. Someone to share life’s most beautiful experiences with. Because the money-making world can make it hard to remember but the truth is that no amount of external ‘success’ will mean anything if life is experienced alone.
I won’t lie — the situation we’re in sucks. Dwelling on that fact won’t make it any better. But if we focus more of our energy on the things that the pandemic has given us, instead of taken away, we’ll start to adopt a more empowering mindset. That doesn’t mean that you should turn into a Pollyanna blind to the very real suffering happening out there. But ruminating on that suffering doesn’t help anyone, least of all you.
And here’s the thing: in the realm of all the possible bad things that could happen, the coronavirus pandemic is not the worst. It’s pretty bad — but it’s not the worst. You know this if you have already gone through a greater hardship. And you also know that even in the bleakest of times, there are moments — however small — that fill the heart with warmth and remind you that, despite it all, there’s a light of hope and love that won’t be snuffed out.
We can fight being paralyzed by the bleakness of our environment by magnifying the little parts of it that shine. The pandemic has taught us that nothing in life is guaranteed. In fact, we sometimes miss really terrible moments in our lives because, despite whatever was going wrong at the time, we had something else that we later lost. When quarantine ends, let’s remember not to take anything for granted and to appreciate the little clusters of goodness before they pass us by.
Let’s remember that the beauty of life is interwoven with its fragility.