When I worked at the Coast Guard Research and Development Center, I became friends with a civilian engineer. He was nearing retirement and had been at the R&D Center a lot longer than I would be. He had a lot to say about the history, the technical aspects, and the politics of the place. One time I said something about wishing I could start my project over so I could do it differently. He said, “If you get to the end of a project and you wouldn’t do differently from the beginning, you haven’t learned anything.”
Journeys are a little that way — not that you might start out differently except perhaps remembering to pack your toothbrush, but that you come home again with different eyes. A good journey transforms the traveller.
Sunday I attended (remotely) a talk by a friend from my previous life. Among other things, he talked about how you can’t go home again. After all, not only has the home changed but you’ve changed. You see it with different eyes.
Perhaps I’m misreading them, but some of the people pushing to reopen the economy seem to expect we can just go back to the way things were last year. But we can’t. Not even considering that the virus is still spreading, did we learn nothing from our shared experience? Or learn nothing so far?
Andrea and I have been in self-isolation for 46 days now. It seems a little early to start listing how we’ve been changed. We’re not ready for the final exam, but perhaps we’re getting close to the midterm.
In the first weeks we began cleaning the cupboards and rearranged the living room furniture. (The cupboard cleaning has paused.) We were hunkering down, ready to wait this out. At first it was really scary. We knew so little about the virus and how it spread and what it could do. Now we know a lot more and it is still scary, but at least we have a better idea how to protect ourselves.
We’ve been through periods of despair and hope, lassitude and energy. I’ve been through a lot of dangerous times in my life. I know that my tendency is to withdraw within myself, to hide until the danger is past. I’ve been through that in the past weeks and now hope I don’t fall back there. But we seem to cycle through a lot of different feelings as we sit home reading the news and avoiding the news.
We pick up groceries at a suburban grocery store. We order online and they bring it out when we get there. Weekend before last, while we waited in the parking lot perhaps 40% of the customers and 60% of the staff had masks. This last weekend, all of the staff had masks and we saw none on the customers. I know this is just a very small sampling, but I think it points to a feature of human nature. We become alarmed about something so we take precautions. But the longer nothing happens, we start to relax our guard. But the danger hasn’t passed. Not yet.
We are once again thinking about making sure our affairs are in order in case we don’t survive this. Andrea and I talk about what either of us will need if we lose the other, and how we can make that easier on the survivor. We both come from long-lived families, but this virus has raised the issue of our deaths from someday to sooner or later.
This last weekend we talked with our kids. They both talked about preparing for the changed circumstances when their kids go to school in the fall. Already there are plans for shortened days or alternate days, for checking the kids for wellness, for keeping the teachers safe.
Talking to them about this helped pull me forward, too. All right, this is not something we just wait out today and this week and maybe next week. This is something that will affect our lives for a while. The plans for school kids helped me start thinking about longer-term plans for us, too. And somehow, I’ve found knowing that to be comforting.
This is a long path we are on. We still don’t know where it leads. We just keep moving forward, resting when we need to. We don’t know where it leads but we keep on, together.