I had high hopes for 2020. I think a lot of us did. I was looking forward to some clarity of vision, folks finally opening up their eyes and seeing the world as it really is.
A global pandemic, though? Not exactly what I had in mind.
Then again, it feels like our society as a whole has been preparing for this for quite some time, digitizing everything from commerce to chit-chat.
And frankly, to save ourselves from imminent demise by climate change, we desperately needed a global slowdown in carbon emissions. Pronto.
This is why I have long since stopped trying to predict the future or pretend like I know what the hell is going on here. Clearly there's a plan. I'm just not privy to it.
The things we have any real control over are precious few, and primary among those are ourselves, our actions, and our interactions with one another.
In times of crisis, it becomes more important than ever to maintain an awareness of the ways we are treating ourselves and each other.
Translation: What the world needs now is love, sweet love.
I've said it before, and I'll continue to beat this drum until someone breaks it over my head (then I'll build another one and keep on banging): To love is an active verb.
Love is not some mysterious, magical state that you trip and fall into and then trip and fall out of once again. Love is a thing you do. Consciously, deliberately, and repeatedly.
Likewise, a relationship is not something you step into and out of like a sauna. It is a state which you co-create with another person. It exists solely as a collaboration, no matter how much you might wish it could be otherwise.
Without consistent energy feeding in from both partners, a relationship will collapse in on itself like a black hole. Or simple fade away into nonexistence.
But how do you keep the fires of love and friendship burning bright when you've been prescribed enforced "social distancing" (which is a very nice-sounding way to say "isolation"), and you're cooped up in an enclosed space with your family members?
Here are some practical tips for keeping connected while quarantined, staying sane while stuck at home, and loving one another despite all invitations to do otherwise.
Tip #1: Reach Out
In this day and age there is honestly no excuse not to maintain some kind of social contact while quarantined. Take your pick of the myriad technologies available--video chat, instant messaging, group chats, social media, email, and good old fashioned phone calls (Oh right! That's why they call this a smart PHONE!)--and start reaching out and touching the people you care about.
Don't wait for them to reach out to you. And don't just put up a generic post on social media and call it good. Get in touch with the people who matter to you. Daily.
Even if you haven't reached out in a while, this is a great opportunity to let the people you care about know they're on that list. [Insert cheerfully grim reminder that you never know when will be the last time you talk to someone here.]
Bonus points if you reach out in gratitude to let someone know how much you appreciate them and all they do and have done for you. I started a thing recently I like to call "Thank you Thursdays." Every Thursday, I pick a few people to reach out to with a simple note of thanks. Sometimes for a specific act, but often just for being wonderful and being in my life.
Be warned, though: their responses might just make you cry. In the best possible way.
Tip #2: Get Old School
You know what's still a thing? Snail mail.
You know what makes people feel super-extra-loved-and-special? Yep, also snail mail.
You know what you finally have time to do now that you're stuck at home and regularly scheduled life has been indefinitely canceled? Write an honest-to-goodness, hold-it-in-your-hand letter to someone.
I'll bet you've even got some stationery and a stamp in a drawer somewhere.
THAT SAID, the COVID-19 virus can survive for several days on the surface of objects such as a letter and envelope. So if you want to be extra cautious (a good idea if the person you're writing to is elderly or immunocompromised), instead of actually sending the letter, take a picture of each handwritten page, and send it electronically.
This works even better with artwork, so if you're in any way artistically inclined, take this as an excellent excuse to get back into practice.
But even if you have no particular artistic talents, this is a great opportunity to tap into your creative energies, especially if you have little ones. Set a good example for them by not judging your creations. Simply enjoy the process of making them together and sending them out to put smiles on the faces of other loved ones.
Tip #3: Make It Fun
As anyone who's ever been in a long-distance relationship will tell you, if you want to keep the magic alive, you're going to have to start thinking outside the box.
About to watch a movie on Netflix? Let your friends know and invite them to watch it at the same time so you can IM your commentary in real-time.
Try playing Scrabble via Skype. Or singing Karaoke. Or have a rap battle or a dance-off via Marco Polo or Tik-Tok.
When you get creative with your digital socializing, the possibilities are endless.
Adults need playtime, too.
Tip #4: Be Kind
This is the most important tip on the list and cannot be understated. Kindness is absolutely essential. Any time, really, but particularly in times of crisis.
Make a special effort during this time to be patient and friendly with everyone you interact with. Anyone who is working during this time is doing so at their own risk, so please be extra appreciative of their efforts.
And when you're cooped up with your loved ones, it can be easy to wear on each others' nerves. Be sure to give one another plenty of grace, and plenty of space, and remember that none of this is their fault, or yours.
Find little reasons to celebrate each other. Learn each others' love languages and take every opportunity to become more fluent in them. Now is the best possible time to shower each other in love.
Tip #5: Stay Loyal To Your Joy
Being kind to others of course begins with being kind to ourselves. We must fill up our own cup of kindness first, or we'll have nothing to offer to others. So please make sure you are setting and protecting healthy boundaries during this time and staying fiercely loyal to whatever brings you joy.
Just because your kids have been pulled out of school and the other adults in your household are working from home doesn't mean you need to make yourself available to them 24/7. Your time is valuable, and your needs matter.
If you need a yoga break, take one. If you need to do a crossword puzzle, so be it. You know what keeps you functional and sane, and you are responsible for making it happen.
And remember: sometimes boundaries need to be literal. It's not only okay to hole up in your office (or bedroom, or whatever door you can close) at times, it is often vital to the collective mental health of the household.
Tip #6: Get Out
Whenever you can, take a walk outdoors. Just because you've been asked to stay home doesn't mean you need to stay in your house all day long. In fact, that is entirely counter-productive to maintaining good health.
Try to go outside for at least a few minutes every day. Even if the weather is crappy and you just take a quick spin around the block, that fresh air can do you a world of good.
This is doubly true when the sun is shining. Even if it's freezing cold out there, Vitamin D boosts the immune system and provides improved resilience to viruses, corona or otherwise.
And of course, walking or wheeling oneself around is a great form of low-impact exercise, which can in turn help ward off depression and anxiety, not to mention cabin fever.
And if you run into someone else out there in the natural world, remember to be kind. Keep a politely safe distance of at least six feet, of course. But a smile and a wave don't cost you anything. And remember, you have no idea what they're dealing with back at home. This brief interaction could be the bright spot of their entire day. Or quarantine.
To sum up: Our lives are slowing down for a while. That's not a bad thing. It can be a wonderful opportunity to refocus on the things that matter most: love, kindness, creativity, and fun.
Happy social distancing to all, and to all a joyous quarantine!