Once we come out on the other side of this pandemic—and we WILL come out on the other side of this pandemic—we’ll all gather around tables full of friends again, and we’ll regale each other with our “quarantine tales.” As Facebook starts to show us our memories from “one year ago today,” we look back on times of unprecedented loneliness, worry and fear. We’ve all had wildly different experiences. For a lucky few, this past year has simply been a much-needed time out from the rat race; an opportunity for soul-searching, career-questioning, introspection and growth. For others, it was (and still is) a terrifying time of wrenching loss—loss of family members, personal health, businesses, jobs, homes, self esteem and any sense of peace they’ve ever known.
The rest of us fall somewhere in between. Those of us who are vaccinated are cautiously emerging from our caves, venturing out, but peeking over our shoulders as we go like kids sneaking out to a party after our parents have gone to sleep. Signs of spring give us hope, but our days are still mostly an endless blur of guilt, anxiety, home-schooling, Zoom calls, boredom, over-indulgence and way too much television, all while we’re still trying to be productive, stay optimistic, and not snap our significant other’s head off when they ask who ate the last cookie.
I fall in that latter category and I’ll admit to still feeling daily that I’m losing my mind. I’m lucky enough to be able to work from home, but constantly worried that I’m not working enough. I eat out of boredom (YES, of course it was ME who ate that last cookie. I polished off the last of the Malbec too, so don’t bother looking for it…) I remind myself daily to count my blessings but still end up feeling sorry for myself and mourning the things I can’t do, the places I can’t go and the friends and family I can’t see until we’re all fully vaccinated. I’m simultaneously bored, lethargic and wound up like a spring.
I spend a lot of time on sanity check texts with friends and family, and a recurring theme in these chats is a lack of a personal sense of peace. Regardless of our financial, work or health situations, peace is the rug that got yanked out from under all of our feet in 2020, and it feels like we might never get it back.
How can we find peace in pandemic times?
I think finding peace starts with making room for forgiveness. We need to forgive ourselves, first and foremost. If we have even an ounce of empathy, we’re keenly aware that so many people have experienced so much worse than we have. But we’re still sad, and that’s okay. We’ve missed long-planned dream trips, endured well-intentioned (but lame) virtual parties for landmark birthdays, and ached for a hug from our best friend. We have to let go of our guilt and acknowledge that it’s okay to mourn whatever it is that we’ve lost, even if it feels trivial and slightly selfish.
Once we’ve forgiven ourselves, it’s time to start forgiving everyone around us, starting with the ones we love the most. (Because after the long haul of the lock-down and beyond, they’re probably the ones we want to kill the most.) When the world came to a screeching halt and we all hunkered down with whomever we shared a residence, both the strong and weak points in every relationship were immediately laid bare. Every slight felt like a slap and every annoying habit became unbearable. And if you happened to live alone, you were probably getting on your own last nerve pretty badly too.
I count myself as extraordinarily lucky. I happen to be married to a woman who grants me all the space I need (and seems to know when I need it,) but who gets in just as close as she can be when I’m lonely and space is the last thing I want. My peace is her priority. She forgives me when I’m cranky, annoyingly restless and selfish. She forgives me when I eat the last cookie and drink all the wine. I try really hard to do the same for her.
Claim what you need and deserve.
I haven’t always been this lucky. Prior to my marriage, I was in a long-term relationship in which I didn’t have a moment’s peace. I lived and worked with a woman who needed something from me every moment of every day. I remember inching out of bed in the morning as quietly as I could, absolutely desperate not to wake her, so I could have just a few moments of solitude before her litany of demands on my time and energy began. Now, I can look back and try to understand and forgive my ex. (I’m still working on forgiving myself for tolerating it as long as I did.) Her insecurities were not mine to carry. Realizing I needed and deserved better as I approached the milestone of my 50th birthday was a simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying epiphany. But I took the plunge and left. Thank God I did, because being forced to quarantine with her would have driven me straight over the edge into the abyss—instead of clinging to the edge, holding on tightly to my marvelous wife’s hand, as I am now.
Peace and forgiveness go hand-in-hand.
So friends, in my humblest of opinions, in these pandemic times (and always, really…) peace and forgiveness go hand-in-hand. Whether you’re coupled or single, working 70 hours a week or unemployed, a mom to five kids or one cat, find a way to forgive yourself and the people around you. We’re all scared, sad, angry, exhausted and frustrated, but we’re also hopeful, loving, fun, generous and kind. Every moment, every word and every interaction we’ve experienced over this last year are being woven into the fabric of our quarantine tale.
Look for ways to give your tale a happy ending. Forgive yourself and those around you. There IS a light at the end of the tunnel. But in the meantime, find some peace in pandemic times.