A recent exchange with a friend I hadn’t talked with in a while started in the usual way: “Hope you are doing well.” I’ve been thinking about his reply: “We’re doing OK but trying to figure out how to get our regular lives back.”
He was referring to having launched a new business — this small-town newspaper, as it happens — and the marathon of work that has followed. But his words struck a chord. I feel as if I’ve been doing the exact same thing. Since Covid hit, or maybe since before that (I know for many people a sense of loss and longing for the past began when Trump was elected), many of us have been searching for our “regular lives.”
Remember when we were “all in this together”? “This” was new and felt like an interruption. It seemed fair to ask what happened to our previous reality. Was it not supposed to return just as quickly as it disappeared? Does it not still exist? When can we shift back to it?
Therein lies the problem. By now, reality has shifted under our feet, and we have been forced to adjust.
Slowly, I’m coming to realize there is no going back to “regular” life, not for any of us. We are here, and we are stuck with a new reality. And, yes, as we noticed at the height of the pandemic, with each other. Maybe the more we fantasize about returning to an earlier life, the harder it is to accept what we must. Plato’s allegory of the cave seems truer now than ever, and our old lives, like the shadows, are no longer real.
The question, then, is how to be in this place and this time. I don’t have the answer. But I have noticed a few things that have helped me during my own struggles over these last three years. Yoga and meditation. Getting together with friends. Being in nature. Teaching and coaching others. Immersing myself in something that makes me forget time.
The things that have reoriented me best have been remarkably simple and close at hand.
The trees have been supplying me with one useful metaphor. Looking at them, I’m aware of all they have adapted to, drawing on soil, water, light, and clean air to feed their growth and support a complex structure of limbs and leaves. Trees live in amazing and efficient harmony with their environment. They suggest a starting point for living on this new soil. Even if we can’t bend reality back into its previous shape, maybe we can adapt. The Covid rings in our trunks will never be erased, but we can learn to live with them and grow new layers around them.
Optimism, I’m finding, always comes after an experience that, even if brief, is real: a hike through the forest or on the dunes or the beauty of an Outer Cape sunset.
Yesterday, for the first time, I replaced the guts of a toilet. I have always been able to repair a chain, handle, or flap, but this time I went outside my comfort zone. I had to take the tank completely off the bowl. It felt great — almost like “this is the path I should be on.” It’s not that I actually want to become a plumber. But it was a challenge, and I was all in.
Embracing the things that are real is how I think we might discover where we are now and go forward instead of trying to go back. Revising our expectations and getting comfortable seeing the world from this new vantage point are critical. And acknowledging what has changed from “before” to today and how we have changed.
It is not all a reckoning, though. Because a rediscovery of who we are must follow. And that is the exciting part — the opportunity to define ourselves anew. What we have is the next chapter waiting to emerge.