In the quiet, early morning of a cold, sunny March day, I remember walking my dog and noticing heavy fresh snow from the night before on tree branches. My eyes filled with tears in response to the beauty of nature; an emotional reaction given what was going on at the time: a pandemic that experts knew so little about, our newly shut-down state, and the millions of people who I knew would lose their jobs and struggle financially.
I remember thinking, ‘I wish I could fast forward my life to mid-Summer, when this horrible nightmare will be behind us, and life will be normal again.’ Well, here we are at the end of June, and yes, COVID cases are down and the state has reopened, but life is anything but normal.
But instead of focusing on the negatives of what this tragic pandemic continues to do to our country, I thought I’d share what I’ve learned during past three months. Here are 7 things Coronavirus has made me realize so far:
1. Change is hard, but doable.
Think about how much our lives changed on Saturday, March 20th; the day the stay-at-home order went into effect in Illinois. Most people don’t particularly like change. Change can feel scary and uncomfortable. So, for a law to suddenly go into effect that states you can’t leave your home except for emergencies, the hospital, the grocery store, and your job was traumatic for some. It felt surreal. I remember thinking, ‘What if something happens to my mom? I can’t fly to go see her.’ Everyone was forced to make changes, and I think we handled it really well. We started working from home, kids started e-learning, we began disinfecting our groceries, we got our groceries delivered, we worked out to YouTube videos, we played board games and cards, we binge-watched TV shows, we donated to food banks, we dropped food off at hospitals for workers. Our lifestyles changed in one day and we adapted. That’s not an easy thing to do. But when you realize you managed the changes with courage, grace and the best attitude possible, it’s empowering. There’s a sense of pride that goes with feeling tough and unbreakable.
2. Being alone can feel isolating and lonely, but it’s also nice sometimes.
I have experienced loneliness firsthand, both as a single woman living in Chicago for several years, and a newly divorced single mom of two young children. It is extremely painful to feel isolated and alone, so can you imagine how it probably felt to live alone during the quarantine? But while spending a significant amount of time alone can be difficult, I think we became creative in learning how to enjoy the solitude and peacefulness that can come with being alone. I personally spent a lot of time reading, watching movies, writing, reaching out to others by phone, and de-cluttering. I realized that being alone didn’t mean not enjoying things.
3. Giving is like taking a drug for happiness.
There were many times during the quarantine when things seemed hopeless. All I had to do was turn on the news or read an article online and it would bring to me tears. However, I found a great way to soothe my anxiety and sadness: give. I started making donations to the Northfield Food Pantry and the Greater Chicago Food Depository. I had posters made with inspirational sayings I made up, and hung them on my front door for passersby. I called every elderly person I knew to check on them and see if they needed anything. I found that when I gave—whether it was financially or emotionally, I somehow felt a little bit better, like I had some control—in a very small way, of healing the world during such a devastating time.
4. Watching others give is inspiring.
I clearly remember one day in April when I just felt exhausted by the monotony of the quarantine and the depression of seeing cases continue to go up. But then, I read a friend’s Facebook post, which was an offer to bring groceries to anyone who couldn’t afford food. Reading that felt like a lightning bolt of hope and love. It made me realize that the pandemic, while taking lives, didn’t have the strength to kill the beauty of the human heart. I have seen countless other acts of kindness during the pandemic, which include people supporting local businesses, groups bringing food to healthcare workers, and people helping the elderly. Seeing people give truly restores faith in human connection.
5. Life really is short.
Last summer, I was planning to take my kids to Europe for the first time, but I got busy and overwhelmed and decided not to pursue it. What a mistake that was. How I’d love to go away this summer, but it’s not happening. The pandemic has made me realize how important it is to take advantage of the opportunities and the time you have when these things are possible. I am more sure than ever, that when things feel safe, the three of us will be on a plane to Greece, Italy, Spain, or all of the above!
6. Life is too short for pettiness and holding onto the past.
When I got divorced 14 years ago, my ex and I didn’t speak for a long, long time. Things have gotten much better in recent years, but I have to say, the quarantine forced a big change in our relationship, which in turn, benefitted our kids. During the shutdown, there were many days when it was just easier for my ex to drive over and eat lunch with the kids. No one had to leave the house, and it felt safer. I sometimes joined them, and it turned out to be very enjoyable, both for us and for the kids. We talked and laughed about old times, and our kids were curious to hear more about the old days, before they were born and when they were babies. It’s sad that it took a pandemic to foster this kind of conversation. In a way, Coronavirus squeezed out past resentment and pettiness. So, whether it’s an ex or a friend or a family member, maybe this is a good time to let bygones be bygones and reach out.
7. Relationships are more important than ever.
Throughout the quarantine, people were forced to live together 24/7 in the same space with no break. I’m sure it tested relationships, including marriage. But through it all, I think we discovered or rediscovered feelings about the loved ones we were living with and those we were unable to see. We found out who drove us nuts, who surprisingly didn’t, who cared deeply about us, who never reached out, who we liked being around, who we realized we had less in common with than we thought, and who we truly loved and were loved by unconditionally. Coronavirus has been a good test of loyalty, trust, and commitment, which could mean the world or break your heart. In other words, COVID either confirmed what we already knew, or it gave us the truth we never saw before the pandemic.
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Jackie Pilossoph is a former television journalist and newspaper features reporter. The author of four novels and the writer of her weekly relationship column, Love Essentially, Pilossoph is also the creator of the divorce support website, Divorced Girl Smiling. Pilossoph holds a Masters degree in journalism and lives in Chicago with her two teenagers.