What I’ve Learned
Tiny schoolings from the pandemic
I don’t mean the big life lessons. There are many and they deserve a more sober, reflective essay. I’m talking about the smaller bits of knowledge, the new mini-realizations and experiences that would not have occurred but for life during this pandemic.
The names of birds (some): Like many of you, my husband and I have spent twenty years worth of mornings, more avidly in retirement, watching birds at our feeders. We now know that the “one with the triangle on its head” is a titmouse, that the “upside-downers” are nuthatches that come in at least two varieties, red- and white-breasted. Our eyes have seen the glory of . . .(we rushed to our bird book) . . . a rose-breasted grosbeak! Husband has bought a real camera.
Cleaning is about as bad as I thought: It’s not just that it’s boring and that I have hated it ever since the era of my refusals to clean my childhood room. It’s that it is endlessly repetitive. The kitchen is clean for maybe 15 minutes and then it is dirty again. (See Kitchen, below). Same for bathrooms. The track marks in a newly vacuumed carpet are gone by bedtime and the dirt and clutter are always, always winning.
The moment when we go maskless: Trying to recognize your friends in public when they’re wearing masks is a new, quiet sport. What is even more vexing is this: I have now met a handful of new people during the last many months only when they (and I) were both masked. Without knowing what their faces look like, how will I recognize them when I see them maskless, post-pandemic? And will they recognize me?
Don’t touch: “Contactless” is a necessary but brutal addition to current vocabulary.
Kitchen = Meditation Room: I have written previously (for Junction Magazine) about how I have adopted my mother’s laser-focus on cooking dinner, especially in a crisis. It is a blessing to have access to healthy food and now, the time to prepare it in a fashion more leisurely than in the crucible of a Chopped competition (which I have in fact never seen.) Watch chef Jacques Pepin’s 2-minute daily videos on his Facebook page. Simple recipes and techniques, his relaxed voice and movements, and the absolute, osmotic Zen that comes from observing a true master in the kitchen.
High-school friends are among the best evidence of a life well-lived: I admit I knew that long before now. Three of mine (and one in spirit who passed decades ago at the age of 34) have come together regularly once a year for a weekend, usually in New York City. The pandemic found all of us home alone, our daily lives interrupted, with time on our hands. Now we FaceTime or Zoom every couple of months. When we finally manage our next in-person women’s weekend, could having had these more frequent virtual check-ins now allow us to speak more slowly and not into the wee, wine-infused hours? Ha! Doubtful . . . But I like seeing their faces more often.
French: It turns out it is not lack of time that has kept me from mastering the subjunctive and the placement of pronouns. Would that it were otherwise.
(Do you have a lesson you’ve learned? An observation? If you want to share, please feel free to leave a comment. If you’re reading this in your inbox, you’ll want to click on the title of the post to take you to the online version, then scroll down to the Comment box.)
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Susan B. Apel retired from a lifelong career as a law professor to continue an interest (since kindergarten) in writing. Her freelance business, The Next Word, includes literary and feature writing; her work has appeared in a variety of lit mags and other publications including Art New England, The Woven Tale Press, The Arts Fuse, and Persimmon Tree. She connects with her neighbors through Artful, her blog about arts and culture in the Upper Valley. She’s in love with the written word.
Susan- I m realizing how much I recognize masked aquaintances from their gait and posture in the foodstore, from hair and body shape....And still, I do look forward to seeing the whole face at some day in the future. Thanks for this post! Deb