This week is the 13th week I’ve been shuttered in my Vermont summer home. I was in denial at first, but it seems like we’re in this for the long haul. Every day, I say good morning to my wife and our cat (who is an undocumented immigrant), indulge in a coffee and twenty two minutes of “Classical Stretch,” take in as much news as I can, spend hours weeding and mulching, and listen to Jan from Toyota remind me we are in this together. I find her comforting.
At first, I was honestly relieved to have the time I’d always wanted to rest, reflect, and strategize for what should come next. But isolation has done interesting things to my thoughts. It’s hard to tell if I am spiraling under unnatural conditions, or if isolation just amplifies what was always there. Start with a silly example: I’ve always been a TV freak. As a little kid on Saturday mornings. I would turn on the set and watch the test patterns until the cartoons came on (as you can imagine, this put my IQ at a precocious starting point and subsequent curve). Today, I am still mesmerized by the screen, but I suddenly have an extensive opinion of, and obsession with, everything it shows me. I deeply wish Savannah and Hoda could consistently look as professional as Nora does, and I dissect every grilling word that Margaret Brennan dishes out on Sundays. I have always been mesmerized by people’s reactions to things, especially to things of national interest where I feel history often seems to repeat itself, and TV feels like the most vivid portal to observe them. But lately I’ve gone into overdrive, and it doesn’t stop when I finally get up from the couch and move to the garden.
There is nothing like manual labor to cleanse the soul, and God knows that in my case there’s a lot to cleanse. Weeding in particular has become a full-time job. In Vermont, weeds have trailers, vacation homes, and an underground network, so one has to dig long and deep. But though simple (find, grab and pull), weeding can stimulate thinking. Surviving the mindless repetitions of a weed patch requires a thought process completely divorced from task at hand. When I was managing people, I had much to think about; now that life is on pause, I am not involved in current problems, something I always yearned for. And yet I now find myself with just as many problems, if not more.
Who gets embarrassed weeding a garden? I do. I Monday morning quarterback everything. I think about other people, mostly those I know and some I don’t. I revisit countless problems and conjure new ones, to which I think up solutions and apologies which I then quickly reconsider. Sometimes I just replay situations where I made a complete fool (ass) out of myself, and it paralyzes me. I decide it’s fine because people don’t have as good of a memory as I do, but I fear that someone always will. I pledged not to repeat my mistakes, but some pledges seem to have gotten lost in the shuffle. I can hope the sum of my life’s parts will outweigh the moments I’d rather forget. Then, daily, I come to realize all I can do is try to become the best version of myself, so that version pops out even on autopilot, like when I’m completely maxed out, or the opposite (like right now). Then it’s time for bed, and tomorrow, the cycle repeats.
My second grade report card was terrible, and it featured a comment I have never forgotten due to the shame of my dad reading it out loud: “John likes to sit in class, look out the window, and daydream.” Not much has changed, I guess; I have always been able to amuse myself. But this situation has shown us all that we have a higher calling than amusing ourselves to death.
here has always been the pressure to perform, to stay on track, to keep up with the machine, to use the weekend to catch up. Now, it seems like we are all winging it, and we’ve have had to let go of our expectations of the “next phase.” All in all, I feel beyond grateful to even have opportunity to reflect; I am not sure how far I’ve gotten, but maybe that’s not the point. T As I contemplate my past and try to use it to help piece together a future none of us might recognize, I have less answers than I ever did. But as long as I find a good topic to dwell on, the time goes quickly. Perhaps that’s the key to it all.
Now back to weeding.