Patti here. I want to preface this with I live a really wonderful life...love my family, love my job, love my life. I am nothing but lucky. And I am one of the super high risk folks who really need to go hide in a hole until this pandemic mess is all over. I don’t like to admit this to myself, but it’s true. I realized this when my pulmonologist sent me four personal emails last spring checking in to make sure I was staying home and staying safe. She was running the Covid ICU for goodness sake, she didn’t have time to send me those emails (especially four times!) but she did anyway because she cares about me and knows how my enthusiasm could lead me astray. After she did this, I figured I would heed her warning.
So with the help of my kids and good friends grocery shopping for us, I have been really good about staying home. I go out for socially distanced walks, usually with the same also overly careful friend, but other than that I really don’t do much away from home. I have taken to baking things and delivering them to friends’ doorsteps so I can get out of the house. Once I drove around the parking lot of the outdoor mall near my house, just to see how it has changed. Yeah, I know. Let’s just not talk about that.
As most of us have experienced this year, life is full of complications. Especially during a pandemic. Life feels better when we are able to adapt our expectations to fit with the reality that life is showing us in the present. This year, it seems we have had to learn this flow over and over again. We all have our own versions of the uncertainty and ever changing example of “school is in, school is out, school is hybrid, school is back in again”. I am going to tell you a detailed story illustrating this. I hope you can bear with me. I do have a point.
Recently, Steve and I drove halfway across the country to meet our youngest grandson (born early March, 2020). I was supposed to fly there to help my daughter after the birth, but my pulmonologist quickly put the kibosh on that.
As the months have gone by, I have been ogling all the pictures and wishing to be there. I wanted to snuggle that little guy SO badly, Steve and I finally bit the bullet, loaded up our camper, and drove the three days it took us to get there.
We decided to add on a few days so we could visit a national park on the way there and back. We love hiking and seeing beautiful places. We thought this would be a fun addition to our very long drive.
With smoky skies haunting us, and park closures, and restrictions due to Covid, we debated where to go and chose Glacier over one of Southern Utah parks because the air quality seemed the best at the time. Yep, I am one of those super sensitive to smoke people, too.
The smoke changed dramatically every day. We didn’t actually decide which direction to go until we were on the road. And then when we arrived at Glacier the next day we found they had closed ALL of the campsites due to Covid staffing. These same campsites had been open when we looked at the park website a couple of days before. Ok, we figured we could work around that complication by parking discretely on some back national forest road. But then, our 24’ rig was too long to visit most of the areas of the park that were open (after we had already let go of seeing the half of the park that was closed due to Covid). We missed the length limit on the website. Discouraged, we found other fun things to do but shortened our stay and headed out early to visit our daughter and crew.
Our travel day dawned during an unexpected, intense storm--rain and hail, and then later, crazy, crazy winds, which if you have ever driven in a camper aren’t actually that fun to drive in. Two days of white knuckle driving in strong winds was exhausting and sometimes frightening but we saw some absolutely exquisite country and tried to revel in that. Since we had to drive slower because of the winds, we chose to travel the smaller back roads through wheat farm after wheat farm. The sky was big. The feeling expansive. We would stop to get gas and take a bathroom break, but soon stopped going inside the gas stations because so few people were wearing masks it didn’t feel safe. Reading our daily Covid reports and seeing the caseloads rising dramatically in the states we were traveling through, I wondered if we maybe just should have stayed home.
Eventually, we arrived at my daughter’s home. Things were looking better until we realized the baby just entered the stranger anxiety period. We spent days and days making funny faces and being very interesting from afar in hopes that we might work our way into his good graces. Our plan worked and we became friends as the week went on. The extra time with the baby became our unexpected boon. If we had been there the amount of time we had originally planned, the baby never would have gotten over thinking we were scary monsters. Now he seems to recognize our voices when we call so hopefully he learned we love him.
The week passed quickly. Soon it was time to leave our daughter’s and again, smoke and Covid interfered with our direction yet again. We changed our plans, forsaking Yellowstone and choosing a less smoky route, visiting more relatives instead. We camped out in people’s driveways and had lovely socially distanced visits with all kinds of family we hardly ever see. It was wonderful.
Our whole trip was an exercise in making plans, and then letting them go to find peace in a new direction. There were some disappointments along the way but mostly it was an amazing trip. We traveled 3,000 miles through our magnificent country, breathing in incredible beauty all the way. This trip was in no way “normal”, but it was filled with love and joy and beauty. And what more do you want out of a vacation than that?
We were reminded again and again to be present to the truth of the moment. In this moment the baby doesn’t want to see me. Can I be ok with that and just wait until he does? Sure. In this moment there is too much smoke to go where I want to go. Is there another wonderful place to go that would bring just as much joy? Sure. There is. It might even bring more joy. There is too much smoke to hang out in my daughter’s yard visiting, can I be happy reading my book in the camper? Sure. Why not?
Sometimes when the world feels like it is going to hell (e.g. smoke, disease, politics, unrest…), I have to remember that what I am feeling right now isn’t what I am going to feel forever. When bad news streams into my mind like a river during a flood, I remind myself that this is the flow. Soon will come the ebb.
I work hard to stay in the present. (Life is generally SO much better there!) But sometimes, when the present is full of struggle and disappointment, I forget that the present is always changing and that bad things are seldom permanent. As time goes by, intensity eases up, new solutions come forward, life gets better again.
The present overwhelms me when I let myself slip out of the moment and ponder all the myriad of “what ifs” that this current bad situation might lead to. But the truth is, what feels so bad in my mind is not actually happening. Generally, if I am truly in the present, life is ok even if it isn’t what I planned. Just think how much worse that vacation would have been if I couldn’t have let go of our plans and been happy doing what was. And now that I am home, where the smoke has gone and the rains have come, life feels comfortable again. I am so happy to be here.
Sure, there is a pandemic with all the complications it is causing, but right now at home not seeing many people and definitely not seeing them up close, is actually ok. The truth is, many of the limitations that the pandemic has imposed on my life are pleasant. I love having more time home alone. I love having fewer social interactions. These months of limitation have expanded my spiritual practice-I am not going anywhere anyway so I might as well practice first thing every morning rain or shine. Without all the driving I was doing before to get to all my various obligations, I have hours more time everyday to create. I have used that time to sew and knit and garden and cook--all things I dearly love to do.
This vacation, and indeed this year, has brought me some incredibly precious gifts. And again, I know how lucky I am to still have an income, to have all my loved ones safe and alive after last spring’s scares, and to even have the time to reflect on how lucky I am. As we head into this uncertain election, and this uncertain time with Covid this winter, I am wishing you all moments of peace with the ones you love. For even in the heart of adversity, there is love. Let the love that surrounds you sustain you in this profound time.