“Lessons in life will be repeated until they are learned.” ~Frank Sonnenberg
Right now, I am living my life in lines.
This is not code for something philosophically abstract or profound. I am literally living my life in lines. Lines with approximately six feet between me and the woman in colorful exercise clothes; the man in Carhart jeans, hoodie, and baseball cap; and the young mother with her rosy-cheeked toddler bobbing up and down in a seat in the cart, singing a song that is unfamiliar yet unexpectedly joyful.
The irony of living my life in lines is discovering that I am way more “socially accessible and receptive” than I was before this new normal called COVID-19 reared its ugly, contagious, mentally draining, gloom and doom, don’t you dare breathe on me masked face.
Even though there is a good amount of “space” between me and the other folks standing on marked spots in the form of masking tape, I find myself becoming a lot more receptive to “social smiling” more than I do to “social distancing,” demonstrating that yeah, I know, this whole standing six feet apart from one another is really weird and a wee bit unnatural; but ironically, this pandemic-mandated social distancing has become the metaphorical tie binding me to people I’ve never met before, aka strangers, creating a surprising, albeit bright light at the end of this spiritually draining tunnel.
Each one of us is spending most of our daytime and nighttime hours in our apartments and houses. And that’s not out of choice. It’s because we must. To keep ourselves and others safe. Period. Not doing this is why the numbers of this virus are skyrocketing, leading to intensely tragic outcomes.
So, while we are all building closer relationships with our sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, and classmates (with virtual classrooms firmly in place) in our respective homes, we are also feeling a surprisingly meaningful connection with strangers in pharmacies and supermarkets, people we’ve never met, who are living in the same parallel universe that we are, enabling us to feel more like a global community than perhaps ever before.
We can look at all these people we don’t know, standing in a checkout line, with a shopping cart full of groceries or one single roll of paper towel and feel as if we are best friends. Amigos. Buddies. Bros. Why? Because we are all living the same lives.
Maybe not totally the same. But more alike than not. And that is something that has sparked daily epiphanies for me, opening my eyes to feelings and thoughts that have confused me—in a good way.
It’s made me question how something this horrific, life-changing, traumatic, stressful, and mentally draining has led me to a heightened state of self-awareness, empathy, compassion, connection, and well, appreciation. Appreciation for people and things I wouldn’t have even thought about before now. Before this Chernobyl, dystopian, living in pajamas existence.
For example. I am the full-time caregiver for a special need adult daughter, which in and of itself, is draining and stressful. Yet, it took a full blown, have-never-lived-through-something-like-this pandemic to shift my perspective of woe-is-me self-pity to how blessed I am that I have company—someone to hang out with who is a 24/7 reminder of how fragile this universe is.
Was I focused on this positive spin before this recent full-time gig in pajamas and lines? I think we know the answer to that question is sadly, no.
Then there’s the jealousy epiphany. Yup. The jealousy that I would feel for friends on Facebook B.P (Before Pandemic), whose lives always seemed way better than mine; the jealousy for a former colleague who was pompous yet incredibly self-actualized, who took her grandchildren to Disney World when I’ve been dreaming of taking my own daughter there forever.
This jealousy thing of mine has always been a painful pill to swallow, and one I was always intensely ashamed of. But, during these many weeks sitting at my kitchen table, writing, playing Words with Friends, listening to my daughter rocking Karaoke to Frozen 2 songs, and watching Keeping Up With the Kardashian marathons on the E Channel, I started to release a toxic emotion that never served any purpose other than making me feel shallow, lame, and embarrassed.
Why? Because of that appreciation thing. The appreciation for being able to do all of these aforementioned activities in the comfort of my home, acknowledging just how lucky I was to be doing that with a 98.6 temperature, while those on the front lines of this worldwide nightmare are dealing with ventilator and mask shortages—literally risking their lives while helping others, perhaps never getting the chance to sit at their kitchen tables or put on a comfy pair of pajamas ever again.
Grim reality, I know. But a sobering one for all of us standing in line, waiting a little longer than we would like, to buy a carton of milk and fresh bread.
Perhaps my recent jump on the appreciation bandwagon might have come along without this new normal of waiting on lines, self-quarantines, and social distancing. Who knows? I, for one, highly doubt it.
I think that all of these so-called epiphanies, which appear as shiny, gold exclamation marks dancing before my eyes, were a higher power’s way of shining a much needed light on the positives, calling our attention to the fact that we are all more alike than different, even if some of us do have fancier cars, bigger houses, higher paying jobs, and three really cute dogs you would give anything to have laying by your feet.
But even all those folks must stand in line. By the masking tape markers. And wait their turn. Because like it or not, we’re all in this together. And let’s face it. Is that so bad?
About Hilary Wolfson
Hilary Wolfson was a freelance writer for The New York Times and other publications highlighting folks in all areas of the arts. A former Special Education and English teacher, Hilary has dedicated much of her life to advocacy for special need children and adults and their families given that her middle adult daughter has significant special needs. Hilary is currently working on her first book, Bananas in Heaven, a memoir about family—not fruit.