It is sunny in Chicago! At least, it has been for maybe three days this week? I’m counting it.
On Tuesday it got into the seventies. I got dressed up in my jeans and sweater without even thinking, because that’s what I’ve done every day for the past million months. Winter is always long in the Midwest, but this one has been… well, you know.
Credit: manrepeller on Instagram
But I knew it was warm enough that I could work outside, so I brought my laptop and coffee out to the front porch. In a sign of how adaptable I am, it wasn’t until 2:30 P.M. that I realized I was cooking myself, and that I could actually put on shorts and a polo. I just despise going from jeans to shorts and back again, so I usually like to make the transition only once per season. But I’m not that stubborn.
(The next two days were 45 and rainy, so I did in fact have to retreat into long pants.)
After Ashley came home from work that night, we ordered takeout and ate outside, watching people on evening strolls and cars driving along Clark Street (too many of both, in our opinion). A storm raged to the south and west, with frequent lightning and heavy thunder blasts. It was heading our way. We wanted to stick it out on the porch until the downpour arrived. The wind rose, and the rain started in, but just as quickly, it dried up again. Twenty minutes went by, long past the point the National Weather Service claimed the storm would arrive. Still dry, but we could see the lightning surrounding us; we could smell the damp on the air.
Were we spared? Had the storm just passed us by, only to hammer those in nearby areas instead? It seemed we were lucky. We lingered a few moments longer to gaze at the full moon behind the barren limbs of the ash tree in front of our building, shining through the hazy clouds.
This was supposed to be the year Ashley and I hosted our first Passover Seder. In lieu of that, on Wednesday night, we had our first ever virtual Seder. It’s become our favorite Jewish holiday. It’s a time for relaxation and celebration, but also a time to look frankly at the injustice at work in the world.
We are all mourning the Seders we didn’t get to have this year, but this was an opportunity, nevertheless. We had a Seder with my mom’s family, which is geographically well-distributed and with whom we’ve never done Passover before. Until now! With attendees in New Jersey, Chicago, Omaha, Boulder, and Palo Alto, we had all four time zones covered.
I was feeling anxious and tight after wrapping work for the day, with only an hour to prep for the meal. We put out our brand new Seder plate and Kiddush cup, ordered from an Israeli artist, and I whipped up some very quick maror (bitter herbs, made from horseradish and beets) to go with the charoset (apple-based dish) Ashley made over the weekend, and we sat down.
Like all good rituals, Jewish Seders are rigorously ordered, which lends them a sense of calm and assuredness. Especially against the confusion and uncertainty of the outside world at this moment, this provides a safe haven. For us, it achieved its intended effect. Ever so briefly (and even though politics was discussed!), we entered a time outside of time, where everything was forever and nobody hurt.
Saturday morning it was nice again, and this time Ashley and I shared the porch together. We read and knitted and video chatted with friends. We discussed our financial situation, and again the subject of our good fortune came up. We know many people whose work has slowed down, or who aren’t making any money at all. But Ashley’s pharmacy remains busier than its pre-virus levels; my job remains steady. And as I mentioned last week, we feel super lucky to have made our big life change and found our new condo before all of this went down. It’s not like we hustled to make sure it all happened before February 2020. It was pure blind luck.
Our condo has not one but two outdoor spaces. It’s a lifeline for us — now that the sun’s out — that many others don’t have.
Why, then, is it so hard to maintain gratitude? Not that we expect to be perfect. Emotions are fleeting and capricious — it’s their nature. It’s unreasonable to hold ourselves to too high a standard. But neither is overdosing on guilt helpful. I think we are searching for ways to convert our moments of gratitude into some kind of sustainable resource that we can access when we’re feeling down about things.
I guess it’s comforting to realize that this isn’t unique to us. It’s so inherently human. Consciousness is such a can of worms: the result of millions of years of evolution, it’s the ultimate adaptability mechanism, and I surely wouldn’t be sitting here without it. People all over the world are currently adapting at breakneck pace, and it’s how our species will defeat this virus. But at other times, it’s a curse — sweating through my long sleeves and pants is just the most benign form of this. Adaptability persists past the point of losing touch with our reality.
The key then is: adapt, but cultivate your sense of history. Remember not just what you have, and not just what you want for the future, but what you’ve lost.
Credit: peacefulmindpeacefullife on Instagram
I wrote a poem this week.
My friend Bassam Tarazi wrote a wonderful piece cautioning us not to hide from the events of the world, even while we are prioritizing self-care and trying to maintain stability. This is a good companion to the message I’ve been sharing of less news consumption and more inward focus: don’t go too far in the other direction.
We’re reading articles on how to cope with the stress. We’re told that we should think positively. That we should just breathe. That we should organize our spaces. That we should find a hobby…
But, putting our heads down, breathing, meditating, drinking quarantinis and hoping this will be over soon is not good enough. We have to stare at it with open eyes…
Most of us will get through this. I’m scared too, but we are all more resilient than we know. Moments like these are simply the ante for playing the game of life…
The only thing we can control in life is our intentionality, so do what you can. Hug who you can. Call who you can’t. Don’t give up. Be calm. Build resolve. Help out. Stay home, but do not look away.
But I know that it works
’Cause I've seen that it's true
If you just let it go
It'll come back to you
It'll come back in spades
It'll come back in pairs
It'll come back in waves
It'll come back 'cause it cares