Our Honda CRV was filthy, unwashed for five months or so. On a fair Saturday morning a couple of weeks ago, we crept out of our refuge to test our comfort level at a drive-through car wash. The place was uncrowded, all workers wore masks, and exterior-only washes were on sale. We aced the test. Our experience was fine. Soap bubbles streaming across the windshield, the cool darkness, the thump of the dryers, those sensations washed up memories from many years ago.
As a teenager I spent many Saturdays washing the family sedan…my job, because I hogged it most of the time as Dad drove a company car and Mom never did learn how to drive. Clad in a bikini top and cut-offs, barefoot, I’d spend hours at the task…hoping that a friend or two would drop by to help or flirt. As I got older, car washing was a bothersome chore, so I turned my car over to professionals, although from time to time I used one of those handy self-serve car washes. No matter how broke I was, there’d be enough change scattered in the glove box to get the job done.
Memories of that simpler time drew my focus to life in the recent past. Happy in marriage, family, friends, retirement, travel, avocations, volunteer work, I have been leading the life of my long ago dreams. Until March, of course, when the curse of COVID-19 struck us all. The first few months were about coping. I created a multi-page spreadsheet to organize our lives and get us through the pandemic. We would cope! Survive! We would take care of our mental health, physical health, and all other aspects of life and very soon come out the other side of this nightmare slimmer, fitter, smarter, and full of energy to continue traveling, partying, and living the good life.
And then a scorcher of a heat wave, followed by fires, smoke, and hazardous air quality intervened. Many activities that were helping us cope became impossible. Walks, time in nature, meditation on our deck…not going to happen when the temperature is over 100 and the air quality index is twice that number. So how do we avoid sinking into depression when we are not just isolated inside, but isolated from the outside? How do we prevent anxiety when we can’t escape to anywhere?
Even before the premature start of the fire season, the new reality tainted future plans. The upheaval affecting many areas of our lives could last not for months, but years. Many favorite activities may not be possible for a very long time. Some will be just a small version of what we enjoyed before. Even with a safe, effective vaccine the world will never be as it was in early 2020. Change will be more rapid and disruptive than ever before. To thrive we must adapt, not merely cope.
Before we can adapt, we must stop railing about our losses and accept them. So many have lost so much. Our personal losses have not been tragic, but still we grieve. Our grief is centered around the loss of freedom to travel, to attend the opera and theater, to dine out often, to visit family and friends, to be around other people without risk, to live the life we loved. It is time to accept the losses and move on.
So how do we adapt? We embrace video technology to solidify old friendships and to build new ones, to share the lives of far flung relatives, to take classes on subjects that always interested us, to explore subjects we never knew interested us. Hours saved by using delivery services for everything can be devoted to art and writing. When the air clears, there is that deck gardening project which was annually buried under travel plans. With the end of fire season, we’ll be back on our local trails, bathing ourselves in nature.
One day, not soon, we’ll stride from our refuge confident that our risk of COVID-19 infection is minimal. Some things in life will be as before; others changed forever. By adapting we can thrive, not just survive.