I read something recently about families or couples having trouble living with each other during quarantine. The thing I read mentioned how being forced to live in close quarters with the same people for long periods of time puts a magnifying glass on things that may have previously seemed small.
I bet my family deserves a few trophies. I’m a pretty ridiculous human being in normal circumstances. During regular life my wife and kids are insulated from my level of crazy by work and school. My kids do have to suffer a little more during summers, as we have summer breaks together, but G still gets a break from my nonsense by going to work. The four of us (6 if you count the dogs) have all been at home together for the last 4 weeks. The dogs are loving it. The family? I’m not sure I want to ask.
These days it’s not uncommon for someone around here to have a tiny fit of rage over the ice trays being left empty or the trashcan being heaped way too high. One of the siblings is likely to take offense over the smallest infraction and react with the largest emotions. All of us have had our moments of quietly but intentionally moving away to a room alone and staying for a while. I would imagine that these are normal responses for people who have been forced to hang out together a little too long. And while I may complain about the ice or trash situation with good reason, I do realize that my family has to put up with me too, and I am a lot.
I just heard one of you say “Amen!”
I’m lucky to have a captive audience for my shenanigans. When I need extras in my art photos, I can call a kid. When I need someone to take the photo for me while I’m half naked in the front yard, I can ask G. When I need someone to fan the flames of me wanting to make some absurdly sweet dessert for no reason, Violet is there with a fork. When I need someone to faithfully empty those ice trays, Blue has been a real-life hero. And when I need someone to warm my feet or silently judge me for doing something dumb, both dogs are ready to serve.
The quarantine and shelter at home order have been tough. The uncertainty is the worst part. I’m really not sure who is in charge of making decisions that affect me. The president maybe? I’ve heard the governor declare some things. The president of my university probably factors in there somewhere. Apparently, there’s someone at the hospital where G works who has made some choices that affect us directly. It seems that none of these people are on the same page about how long we will need to avoid contact with people or when we can return to our jobs. Can we still go on our summer vacation? Will restaurants be open? Can I go hiking? It seems the answers keep changing.
We are stuck with whatever is decided for us. Control freaks and rebels hate that sort of thing. I might have a touch of both of those qualities in me. I’ve watched people on social media tell me all the things I should and shouldn’t be doing. I’m not a fan of that either. Everyone thinks they have the most correct and most up to date information and that anyone who doesn’t agree with them is of an inferior intellect. I’m pretty smart, and I live with a nurse with 25 years of experience and a graduate degree in her field. It can be tough to take medical advice and viral protection advice from social media medical amateurs. You should have read that in your snarkiest voice. I’ll wait if you want to try it again.
I’ve heard people talk about the “new normal”. Many have said that our world will never go back to the way it was, that we are forever changed in how we will interact with others and how we will treat people when we are released from our homes. I understand the hope in those statements, but I’ve been alive long enough to be very skeptical. I remember in the weeks following the 9/11 terrorist attacks people saying the exact same things. I was young enough then to still believe they might be right. I remember hearing a normally serious and guarded news anchor launch into an emotional Ted Talk on air about how these attacks were a wake-up call for all Americans. The anchor asked viewers to consider what they were doing and how they were living their lives. They posed the question, “Are you doing exactly what you want to be doing right now?” and then followed that question with another….” Well what are you waiting for?”.
Some have asked similar questions recently. Some have suggested that we’ll see a new version of humanity. That we’ll care more about our planet and the other humans living with us on it. It’s been suggested that we’ll see an outpouring of love and kindness as we have been separated from our friends and coworkers for so long. I would like to believe these were possibilities. My fear is that we are what we are. I mean, we could be spending our time in captivity trying to make other people smile or laugh. We could be sending kind notes or drawing things for people. We could be planning how we will show love to our friends when we see them again. We could be calling or Zooming to strengthen relationships now. We could be love to the world around us.
The reality is that some of us are just binge-watching our lives away. Some of us are growing bitterness inside our home-sized petri dishes. Some of us are lashing out at strangers online for not sharing our “medical” opinions on the best way to approach a pandemic. Some of us are still trolling the comments, hating a political party, looking for flaws in our social groups, and choosing to be very loud about it whenever possible.
This bitterness may come from real, vulnerable places. Maybe it comes from past hurts and offenses or current sore spots in our lives. Or maybe you’re just an a-hole, I don’t know you. What I do know is that many people around the world are just hanging on by a thread right now. Parents are struggling, students are dealing with lost semesters, unemployed people are wondering how they’ll pay bills, and kids (and honestly everyone else too) are supremely anxious about “these uncertain times”.
If you are mentally, emotionally, and physically able, maybe this would be a good time to fight bitterness with love. If you are ok, maybe send an email or text to someone who may not be. You don’t have to help them move heavy objects; just tell them you’re thinking about them. Tell them something you like and appreciate about them. Maybe you could do this once a week or once a day. Draw something funny for someone and send them a photo. Heck, mail the original to them. Write them a story or send them a favorite recipe. Email a high school teacher you remember. Smile at a stranger – or maybe wave since you’re probably wearing a mask. Do something. Anything. The negative voices do not need to be the loudest.
If you’re reading this, there’s a really good chance I love you. In some way, great or small, even if you’ve never really thought about it that way, it’s true. I’d like for you to know that. I would also like to invite you to let me know if you’re struggling. Let me know if you need a bit of kindness sprinkled into your quarantine life. Because I need to stop obsessing over the eternally overfilled trashcan and throw some love out into the world.