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$Monday: The Life-Preserving Magic of Hunkering Down

Here I am trying to show off the new silver streak in my hair that matches all my cozy gray loungewear. There's no banishing the gray this year--the hair, the clouds gathering outside, the moods of quarantine, the mental fog--so we might as well embrace it with as much warmth and compassion as we can. In a dreadful and lonely time, my anxiety tells me I need to get out and do more, to do people favors, to keep someone company, to reach out, to find a change of scene, to earn more money in case of financial disaster, but my rational mind knows that the most helpful thing I can do for my family and community during a pandemic is to hunker down. 

Settle in, simmer down, think small and simple and safe. Make smart, long-term investments of time, attention, energy, and resources for the next year. This is not the season to hustle and produce more, it’s time to wait patiently and conserve. The best most of us can do right now is damage control. A pandemic is no time for big risks or gambling with life or money.

More cars on the road means more accidents. More people out and about means more disease transmission. More interaction means more danger, in part due to the rise of fascist populism that has a sizable chunk of the U.S. population whipped up into a nonsensical zombie-esque frenzy of hateful rage, weaponized fear and mistrust, and science denial.

As those folks continue to demonstrate, ignoring the truth doesn't do any good. So we need to learn to live with the reality we have, as best we can. For me, that includes accepting that many other people are hopelessly unmoored from reality at this time, and that many of the ways I feel compelled to “help” right now pose a greater threat than capacity to actually improve anything.

I am done arguing with anyone who no longer believes in hygiene or democracy. I have compassion for those who are lost right now, and I also have the good sense to keep my distance from anyone who, intentionally or not, has become hazardous to my physical and mental health--and to my family's.

At times like these, a locked door or a blocked account can be compassionate tools of nonviolence. They can help us to make space for our own healing and for the gentle nurturing of healthy relationships and habits instead. Locking down is the most unselfish choice in the world in this moment.

So how to make the most of hunkering down? 

I don't believe that this is necessarily the best time for ambitious self-improvement. It's cool if that's working for you, but I'm certainly not feeling motivated to learn a new language or write another novel at this time. But having a hobby is great, anything that helps you pass the time pleasantly. It doesn't have to be anything impressive; it could be cooking or baking or Lego building or online gaming or drawing or dancing or singing or playing an instrument or knitting or even splitting gigantic stacks of firewood--anything that speeds up your perception of time, relaxes you, and doesn't hurt you or anyone else.

Get enough rest and alone time, which might be more than usual, depending on what your particular mind and body need.

Look around for the simple pleasures available to you and for reasons to feel hope, joy, and kinship with others. For example, I drove across town for the first time in months recently, and I noticed that I couldn't spot a single fascist-leader political sign along the way. Instead, I found that my neighborhood and closest city were festooned with yard signs bearing messages of kindness and humor, such as Black Lives Matter; Choose Kindness; No Matter Where You're From, We're Glad You're Our Neighbor; In This House... (rainbow of various messages of solidarity); Pray; You Are Worthy of Love; and Wu-Tang Is Forever. (That last one gave me a laugh!)

Build warmth and intimacy with your quarantine partners. If it's only yourself, go hard on the self-care. If it's the roommates you're already sick of, dig deep for things you like about them. If it's your family or your romantic partner, take advantage of this season of heightened intimacy and togetherness. Find fun things you can do together while allowing each member of the household the amount of privacy and alone time they want.

Keep in touch with loved ones outside the home by text, phone call, and video chat, but don't push yourself to overdo it. Those virtual interactions have their place, but they aren't the same as the real thing. Give your favorite people outside of your home the moral support to do their own best hunkering down so that you can have many more years of satisfying in-person time together in the future.

And in your physical space, at home, maybe shift things around. Decorate for the holidays and seasons just to please yourself and anyone you live with. Take this chance to skip stressful holiday obligations and expenses that you can opt out of this year. As I wrote last year, before I knew Covid-19 was coming for us, "Green Therapy Is the New Black Friday." This year is more difficult in many ways, but it has also created some opportunities to break old habits we already wanted to change.

Buy groceries in bulk, as long as they won't go to waste. Your household is probably going through more of certain things than before the pandemic. Go ahead and recommission social-entertainment spaces as storage areas, accepting that we won't have guests in our homes for a long time.

Pull out all your comfiest winter clothes, regardless of holes or stains or unraveling threads. Feeling good is more important than looking good this year.

Give your skin and hair a long break from cosmetic products and hot tools. 

Indulge your pets in all the snuggles and extra play-times they desire.

Make a fun plan for power outages so that if your electronic umbilical cord gets pulled, it will be an adventure rather than a crisis. Stock up on beeswax candles, firewood, battery-operated LED lights, board games, paper books, cushy blankets, outdoor gear, sleds, and survival gear such as equipment that will allow you to make coffee without electricity.

Think of the pandemic as a retreat from normal life, and lean into its opportunities for learning and living differently as much as your circumstances allow. As one of my college roommates, a mother and schoolteacher whose husband is a front-line medical care provider, pointed out on a recent video chat, this is a time that will transform everyone living through it, much like the Great Depression did for our grandparents. If we approach it the right way, we and our children can draw strengths and skills from this time of hardship that could serve us for the rest of our lives.

What gifts of wisdom and character formation will we carry forward from this winter?

None if we don't survive Covid, so hunker down, friends, and mute and ignore all the people in your life who are ignoring science. FOMO and anxiety might tell you that you're alone in this, but you aren't. You are quietly surrounded by love and care and beauty and strength. Though apart, we're all in this together. When it's over and we finally emerge, you'll see.

Preserve yourself, preserve your community. Happy hunkering down!


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