Every time I mention my gratitude for the pandemic, I stop to carefully overcorrect myself. I mean, really, how could I actually be thankful for a virus that has shut down our economy and has taken the lives of thousands?
“Oh, I don’t mean to say grateful.” I shake my head and laugh. “I mean, it’s a horrible thing to happen to the world and I hope things go back to normal soon. I’m just thankful for some of the extra time I have now.”
I can hear myself rambling, stumbling over well-intentioned but feigned words, and I’m not very convincing. Just the thought of life going back to “normal” causes the anxiety to start creeping in through my toes and up my legs, threatening to take up permanent residence in my body once again.
Before the world halted, I was living in fast-forward. If I wasn’t commuting for hours a day to the office to attend back-to-back meetings, I was rushing through an airport to catch my next business flight. And when I wasn’t working or commuting, I was planning for my next social event or distracting myself with television and chores.
Every day was a checklist I was efficiently working through from top to bottom until complete. I was spending any free time I did have in a constant state of stress, worrying about what came next to be certain not to miss anything. It seemed I was always packing or unpacking with one foot out the door.
Somehow, I had disappeared into the background of the life I had constructed and all that remained was an overscheduled, stretched thin, distracted shell of a human being. I had forgotten how to be present in my own life. Then, slowly at first, followed by a swift takeover, COVID-19 forced its way into my existence and everything changed.
I couldn’t wrap my head around the magnitude of this announcement, so instead of letting it sink in I simply created another checklist: cancel flights, cancel car rentals, cancel hotel reservations, unpack bag, and on and on. Each time my computer asked me, “are you sure you want to cancel?” and I clicked the reply, “yes, I’m sure.” I could feel my shoulders start to relax.
The heavy stuff in the news still felt very distant and instead of feeling anxious I started to feel a wave of relief.
In the next chapter of the COVID-19 saga, when the government announced that everyone should be staying home and self-isolating, I allowed myself to cancel all of the weekend plans and evening activities that had enslaved me. Each time I tapped delete event from my phone’s calendar, I noticed my inhales starting to get a little deeper and my exhales beginning to grow a little longer.
As the announcements continued: “You must now work from home indefinitely … the borders are closing indefinitely … no gatherings of more than 5 people … all restaurants and shopping centers must close….” Announcement by announcement, the world slowly shut down, and announcement by announcement I found myself feeling even more relief.
The pandemic had given me back my life. I found myself enjoying the little things and sweet moments in each day again, and I could feel my soul, my true self starting to resurface. I felt the breeze tickling my skin as I strolled along the lake; I noticed the smell of home in my partner’s neck when I nestled into him; I sipped coffee each day slowly and deliberately, trying to enjoy every sip of the strong magic that owned my mornings.
I was writing and painting again, the creative process reminding me of what I had lost in my busy life … myself.
The pandemic forced me to reconsider how I was living my life. Did I really need to travel as much as I was? When did I stop saying no to plans and visitors? Why had I felt so obligated to fill every minute of my life with noise? Life, as it turns out, is much more enjoyable when you slow it down and savor it. Barreling through life made me sick, wore me down, stressed me out and dimmed my light. I remember this now.
Pandemics are scary. COVID-19 has taken many lives, forced apart families, shaken up plans, brought abuse into glaring focus, and derailed relationships. But it’s also forced us to spend time with ourselves. To spend time alone. Time to face our choices, thoughts, fears and emotions. What the pandemic did for me, was show me that I wasn’t really living awake. I was living distracted. And I see clearly now that living distracted is not really living at all.
The truth is, I am thankful for what the pandemic has given back to me and I will no longer apologize for feeling this way.
Kaitlyn Moor is an artist, nature-lover, dreamer and corporate professional. Writing has been her private form of expression for years which she is nervously thrilled to start sharing with others for the first time.
See Brian Henry's schedule here, including online and in-person writing workshops, weekly writing classes, and weekend retreats in Algonquin Park, Alliston, Bolton, Barrie, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Collingwood, Georgetown, Georgina, Guelph, Hamilton, Jackson’s Point, Kingston, Kitchener-Waterloo, London, Midland, Mississauga, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Southampton, Sudbury, Toronto, Windsor, Woodstock, Halton, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York Region, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.
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