by Kimberly Garts Crum, MSW, MFA
“. . . to be lost is to be fully present, and to be fully present is to be capable of being in uncertainty and mystery.”
~A Field Guide to Getting Lost~
In the first phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, I craved relief from the solitude of home. I walked. I drove. I Zoomed. I waited in the pick-up line at Carmichael’s bookstore and the drive-in window at Heine Brothers coffee. Something seemed to be happening inside of me—an odd appreciation for the ordinary. I thanked a postal worker for her service. I told the man retrieving bascarts, “You are doing an important job.” His eyes smiled above his mask.
One day, I stopped at the bank drive-in window. The teller apologized in advance for his delay. “I’m the only one here,” he explained. “No worries,” I said. “I’ve got all the time in the world.” And then, in the sanctity of my Subaru, while waiting for the teller to complete the deposit, I recognized a truth—I do not have all the time in the world. My expiration date approaches, even without COVID-19.
Was it too late to make the most of my life? What might I learn from the continuous feeling of danger and social isolation? What might become endemic to my life? Here are a few of my good intentions.
I will recognize and cherish the resilience of nature.
Nature beckoned me to recognize her. The absence of traffic in the sky and on city streets enhanced Her beauty. I walked two to three miles a day through my urban neighborhood, crossing empty streets, stopping to admire the crocuses popping out of the soil. The birds, the squirrels, the raptors in the park conducted their business as if it were just another day. A hawk on a tree branch lunched on a squirrel. This seemed as it should be. I snapped a photo.
The birds of the air and the backyard fascinated me. I learned how to identify songbirds by call and sight with the help of an app on my iPhone. For long stretches of time (15 minutes is significant), I sat on park benches and lawn chairs, listening to and recording songbirds.
I learned to love gardening, crumbling dirt in my hands as I planted bare root perennials, tucking them into a bed of peat and manure, feeling hopeful for their survival. My gardening daughter assured me, “A plant’s only job is to grow.”
I will recognize, accept, and plan for my mortality.
I can’t remember the conversation that preceded the revision of our will and the decision to reserve a niche at Cave Hill Cemetery, at the corner of a wall overlooking the duck pond where I once took our children to feed the ducks. “What if we get a divorce before we die?” John asked. “No problem,” I said. Most people have their marriage date on their niche panel. “We’ll add our divorce date,” I said. We laughed. Reserving a shared space in a columbarium wall was a testament to our plan to remain together for the duration.
At the start of COVID, I nested furiously, cleaning pantry, closets, and rifling through file cabinets. This is abnormal behavior. I am the homemaker who hides things, who shoves the week’s mail in the pantry before company comes, who sweeps dust bunnies under the rug. The nesting behavior preceded my knowledge of the book, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning.
I told myself I needed to dispose of things because I would not want to leave a mess behind for our adult daughters to clean. But I think the real reason for my behavior was this—what we leave behind tells the story of who we are.
As I write, scientists tell us the pandemic is now endemic—a permanent viral resident, preventable and treatable. Something to live with. This reminds me to make the self-care lessons learned, to love nature actively and embrace my mortality, endemic to my future.
*This wonderful guest post was prompted by an earlier post on What have you learned about self-care during COVID that you want to continue? We hope these posts encourage your own reflection, personally, and with your self-care circles. As always, contact us if you want to contribute to this shared forum of the self-care movement.
Kimberly received an MSW from the University of Iowa and an MFA in Writing in Creative Nonfiction from Spalding University. She enjoyed a 17-year social work career in health care and psychiatry before becoming an essayist and adjunct literature professor. Now, as the sole proprietor of a writing instruction studio, Kim teaches memoir and personal essay to aspiring writers who want to tell true stories for posterity or publication.