I can confidently say that March 2020 has been a month we won’t soon forget. I know I’m not alone in this. The month started with our usual rush of appointments, work, and school. My husband regularly commuted to his office in Toronto. I started a new contract, working from my home office. My daughter was busy juggling assignments and tests before the Spring Break. On Wednesday March 11th, she went on a school trip to see Hamilton The Musical, an event that she had been looking forward to for years. Little did we know how lucky she was to attend this particular performance. That’s because the turning point came the next day.
On Thursday March 12th, at around 4 PM, I dropped my daughter off at the local library to study for a calculus test on Friday. During the next few hours, with her phone set to “do not disturb”, she sat studying calculus while outside the library the seismic shift began. When she finally turned her phone back to normal, it started to “explode” with messages. The Ontario government had announced schools would be closed for an extra two weeks after Spring Break. The next morning I arrived at my regular grocery store and stumbled into a “retail apocalypse”. I’ve never seen shelves so bare. Entire sections were missing – toilet paper, canned soup, flour, eggs… It was as if everyone in town had emerged from their homes with the thought of baking, cooking gallons of chicken soup and then taking excessive bathroom breaks! The beleaguered cashier at Fortinos had a bit of a crazy glint in his eye as he hummed his theme song for the day – Paint It Black by the Rolling Stones.
I visited the hair salon on Saturday March 14th, just two days after the school cancellations were announced, and joked about shades of blond with my stylist. Then over the following week the dominos continued to fall. No dentist, no optometrist, no gym, no Sunday brunch at the Sunnyside Grill, no drinks with friends… (Had I scheduled that hair appointment even a few days later, I’d now be joking about the emerging shades of grey instead!) Besides the cancellations of my own appointments, I spent increasing time sending out messages to my service club about upcoming events that we were cancelling. All the international and local youth initiatives that we had so carefully planned over the last year were delayed until 2021. Our students who were travelling abroad started to come home to Canada. And with great disappointment, our students who were getting ready to depart stayed learned they would have to wait another year.
My own soon-to-be high school graduate watched her senior year milestones disappear one by one: no prom, no convocation, no final concert, no summer job, uncertainty about graduating, and even uncertainty about her university plans for the fall. My son’s research assistant job at university disappeared. My mother-in-law and aunt cut short their Florida vacation at the urging of the family. These realities are impacting many families, and far worse than what our family has faced so far. Today, we still have our jobs, our health, enough food and a safe place to live. With all the busy routines of lives abruptly gone, it focuses each of our lives on the remaining essentials. It makes us realize how much we take for granted. How fortunate we are to be healthy, and to know that if we get sick that we will be taken care of by a universal health care system and well-trained medical staff, without the fear of being bankrupted by ill health. We are truly lucky to have a history of well-organized governments that put measures in place to protect Canadians, both physically and financially. How little did we think about these blessings before the crisis struck (see Being Grateful)? Why did we focus so much on our relatively minor “First World problems”?
Self-isolation has also brought positive moments: frequent dog-walks with my daughter, long-awaited garage cleaning with my husband, and many more home-cooked meals. On the weekend, we set up a virtual dinner party over Zoom with our extended family. Each household ordered Swiss Chalet and chatted by video conference from our homes across Ontario. For an hour or two, it felt like we weren’t so far apart after all. The following day, we played a virtual trivia game with some friends. We have been given the gift of time and technology to bring us together despite physical distance. This period of necessary isolation is an opportunity to make time for things that may get pushed aside in the rush of ordinary obligations on typical days.
Coincidentally, earlier this month I started reading a book, The Happiness Project by Gretchin Rubin, which turned out to be surprisingly relevant. Rubin had the realization, even before this global pandemic, that the years were passing her by without the appreciation that they deserved. She set herself the mission to find out what made her happy, applying the latest research to her life and observing what actually worked. It wasn’t that she was unhappy. Indeed, Rubin had many things to be thankful for, but somehow their value to her was becoming lost. Each month, Rubin set a theme and some desired behaviours that she tracked. At the end of her one-year experiment, she was happier and so were the people around her! I related to Rubin’s journey as a wife and mother who worked from home, loved reading, started a blog, and strove to keep learning. Strangely enough, the lessons in the month of March from her year-long experiment were strikingly relevant to our own current month of March! The theme was “Aim Higher” and her resolutions included:
- Launch a blog
- Enjoy the fun of failure
- Ask for help
- Work smart
- Enjoy now
Her realization that “risking failure gave me the opportunity to score some successes” was a perfect reminder. Overall, feeling happier gave Rubin the freedom to risk failure and open herself to new experiences, which in turn could enhance her happiness further. As both a perfectionist and high achiever, it’s a lesson that I can take to heart. “Enjoying now” is particularly important in these uncertain times. Happiness comes from the journey rather than the destination alone. Even during a global crisis, we can find chances to pause, be grateful and celebrate simple moments.
So, what has brought you joy today? What are you grateful for? How can you appreciate the new normal?