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Latent Lollygagger: Grief and Possibility

Last week, I grappled with this concept of living in limbo.

One of the threads that I’ve pulled on this past week, related to this idea, is the difference between being in immediate survival mode and a more sustainable survival mode. And about the grief we need to allow ourselves to experience to move from one to the other.

We were all thrown into pandemic response basically overnight. I remember walking on the beach, stopping to take a picture, and seeing a text alert on my phone from the city alert system that shelter-in-place would start at midnight.

It was like that. One alert. With no true indication of how long it would last. Just: stay at home.

March 16, last day pre-shelter-in-place. Ocean Beach, San Francisco

The immediate survival mode was stocking up at the grocery store, moving in-person meetings and events to Zoom, buying hand sanitizer. Figuring out where to work, figuring out how to homeschool kids, what to do with closed daycare, how to stay safe as an essential worker still needing to go to work. Applying for unemployment and business loans.

The first 100 days seemed like a breath-holding, doing what’s needed in the moment, to just get through each day without falling apart. Howling or clapping at 7pm, drawing chalk art on sidewalks, putting teddy bears in windows, new schedules and coping mechanisms.

That idea, that each day is just something to get through, is not a very sustainable survival tactic.

It works when something is temporary, when there’s an end date. Head down, one foot in front of the other, stubbornly pressing on. Just get to the top of the hill, the end of the journey, the finish line.

It’s necessary when there are concrete steps to be taken, when there is the bare minimum to be done to be safe and sheltered and fed and alive.

The first 100 days, think of how each one blends together, there are no signposts for what happened when, each day a blur of what has to get done and perhaps a break here and there for something fun, but for me, even those pleasurable things started to turn into something to just get through in order for the day to pass in order to just get through the day in order to just get through the pandemic.

When I think about this endless loop, I worry about depression taking hold, of anxiety settling in.

So there needs to be a different strategy for a sustainable life in limbo.

Because there is no top of the hill, no finish line. We are really at the beginning, not the end. Staring down at our shoes means we miss the scenery.

Sure, this is a journey none of us would choose to be on. And I acknowledge that, for those struggling with unemployment, with health issues, with disparity and hardship, the idea of taking a look around to enjoy the view might be impossible.

Yet we all deserve to find pleasure in our days, in our lives. Not because a problem goes away, but because for at least a few breaths, we can remember our humanity and the oxygen in our lungs and the iron in our blood and the serotonin in our brains and the words on our lips.

It’s tempting to think that as states and counties move into different reopening phases, that we’re nearing a crest. That we are nearing the finish. That we can take our masks off and hug our friends and make travel plans.

But the virus is still here. The cracks we’ve seen in our world are still here. This is a long journey, an ultra-marathon of unknown distance.

I don’t say this to be dramatic or depressing. I say this because it means we have to change our survival tactics.

For me, that means moving from a mindset of just getting through the day, checking things off my list, simple self-care tactics good for depression and pandemics, to a mindset of grieving what has been lost and accepting the new look of the world.

Grieving is important: because we were thrown into this new reality so quickly, I don’t think we, collectively, as a society, have done a good job of mourning the fact that we’ve all lost something. We use phrases like “back to normal” or “when this is over,” picturing a life that looks like the one we had in February.

Forcing that picture of reality means we’re trying in vain to overlay our old lives on top of a new reality. The pictures won’t quite match up. And it’s frustrating and hard and devastating.

Maybe bits and pieces line up, so we can use those as a safe space, a semblance of comfort when the world is so crazy.

So, yes, hang onto those bits, but perhaps it’s time to redraw the rest. To discard what can no longer work and look for new ways forward. To discard our attachment to what things were like in February as the end goal for what we want things to look like now.

It means grieving and letting go and acceptance, all of which take time and space and energy. If I’m using that energy to cling to what’s no longer possible, I won’t have it to look forward to what is now possible.

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