Four months ago, quarantine began for my family. After retrieving our college freshman from school in a panicked rush of stuffing boxes as our cars waited in 15-minute, loading-zone parking, my spouse and I drove home separately. Looking back, I’m grateful that Asher was with Rob; I was too overwhelmed by the anticipated enormity of what was coming with this virus. Nevertheless, my feigned optimism led me to suggest that our family write a three-act play together or that we, as a family, learn conversational Portuguese or that we expand our talents in the kitchen by trying a new recipe every night.
Four months out, we have no script, no fluency in a foreign language, and no encyclopedic collection of gourmet meals à la Covid.
What we did end up with was a list of “projects.” Being married to a man who values productivity, the list became a gauge for time well spent. From where I sit, I see a pile of wood, mostly split; a heap of detritus, bound for the transfer station; and lengths of pressure treated wood, leaning against the garage to “dry out.” (I’m not sure what how those soon-to-be desiccated boards will be employed, but I’m sure that they’re integral to one of the “projects” on the list.)
While there have been some successes, that is, lines drawn through the bulleted points of written future accomplishments, there have been far more failures, most of which have been personal ones, one that never made the list because they were tasks that could have only been done by me.
With the shift from “life as we know it” to, in essence, “house arrest,” I planned to keep as much of life’s routines intact as possible. So what if my yoga studio was closed? I could practice at home: I knew the routine by heart. And yet, not one downward dog has stood firmly on four legs in four months. For all the reading that I’ve done about the benefits and challenges of meditation, I’ve not found time to dedicate even ten minutes a day to a daily practice. (Funny how I’ve been able to make time for my Sudoku app though?) When it became clear that Rob and I wouldn’t be traveling to Portugal in May, learning how to ask, “Excuse me, please, where is the bathroom?” seemed like a fool’s errand. Even if I had learned how to politely locate a Portuguese WC, we are currently unable to hop the puddle thanks to the EU’s decision to keep virulent Americans on their own soil.
My vows, mostly uttered on Sunday nights with the “whole week ahead of me,” to overhaul just one of the many manuscripts lying around, get back on my yoga mat, sit quietly and empty my mind, etc, consistently resulted in late Friday afternoon, week-in-review, flagellations of disappointments and promises that “next week would be better.”
But here we are.
What, then, do I have to show for the last third of a year?
I read a lot: thirty-four books, fiction ranging from Tolstoy to Roth to Irving to Orwell and non-fiction by Freud and Fromm and Sartre in addition to selections by less famous authors on the craft of writing, meditation, human sexuality, mostly through the lens of Tantric practice. Much of what I absorbed yielded provocative conversations over our standard, i.e., “pre-Covid,” dinners. Others’ views of the world were outlined, debated, and occasionally adopted as reasonable and worthwhile. Getting to know the thought processes and behavior patterns of my family, in ways that only a “house arrest” could yield, has been as interesting as it has been frustrating.
After nearly twenty-five years partnered with Rob and closing in on two decades of parenting, I had concluded that I was an expert in all things family, meaning I knew them, and they knew me. But all this “together time” has left me feeling amateurish and questioning what I had considered settled truths.
Instead of concluding that I was wrong, I opted to embrace the notion that there was still so much to learn about our domestic dynamics. Instead of griping over shattered realities, I decided to see the inconsistencies and contradictions as signs that none of us is fully formed or lacking potential to continually grow into someone else.
And that potentiality is the greatest of all projects. To be able to, in a fragment of time, believe that “I am _____,” and then to reflect, reconsider, and adopt a different way of living is the apex of human development. This is the ultimate and most essential task we have: to experiment with Nietzsche’s suggestion that we all must “become who we are.” So while this axiom never made “the list,” I have come to the conclusion that the last four months has been a tacit striving toward that end.
As community restrictions are lifted and life begins to resemble the near recent past, it is tempting to mourn over the unfulfilled good intentions for getting into “the best shape of my life,” acquiring a second (or third, or fourth) language, or penning a Tony-award winning play. But those goals need not take away from finding that life, no matter how it is lived, can, and should, always be a project worth taking on.