I’m riding through central Ohio as I write this, en route from southeast Michigan to my Carolina Piedmont home. It’s the tail end of a three-week family road trip that took us to suburban Dallas, rural Missouri, and the metro Detroit region where my husband and I grew up. I’ve seen more of my people in the past 21 days than in the past 15 months combined. If not for all those long months of quarantine, I don’t think I would’ve ever considered visiting three sets of family in one fell swoop. But in the context of a still-raging pandemic (for which my 9 year old child remains unvaccinated), it made sense. We’re not flying anywhere in the near future and we can’t make three separate road trips. So we made a big circle instead. Shockingly, I’ve felt pretty calm and contented throughout our journey. The key to enjoying this nomadic existence is being okay with the fact that none of us are alright.
I credit daily meditation for bringing me to this peaceful state of mind. Sorry, I know it might be annoying to hear that. One of my socialist friends recently “admitted” to me that he also finds meditation helpful for mental health maintenance; apparently this ancient practice has gotten a bad rap among our comrades due to corporate culture co-opting it for the sake of keeping workers docile (see Amazon warehouses installing meditation booths for unhappy laborers who really need restrooms). If you’re a very online socialist who now associates meditation with the evils capitalism, please know I’ve been unemployed since December. No boss has forced me to visualize a beam of sunlight pouring out of my chest for the sake of productivity. I just started doing it in January so I wouldn’t lose my mind from wintry solitude.
Anyway, the biggest benefit of meditation for me personally is acceptance. I don’t wish for anyone to be different than they are, because what’s the point? I can’t control that. And if their fear, confusion, or frustration following a year of quarantine causes them to behave strangely, I’m way less likely to take it personally than I did in the before times. Lord knows I have my quirks. So when I’m with company and accidentally reminisce on a memory that’s a bit too dark, or inexplicably laugh myself to tears, or have some other outsized emotional reaction, it’s okay. We’re all strange after staying away from each other for so long.
I spent a lot of time during this trip just listening to friends and family and, for the most part, I didn’t mind. I love hearing stories of other people’s lives, even if it’s just a variation on “here’s how my job got really bizarre once the pandemic hit” or “this is what we did to survive the school year from hell.” In a normal year I would’ve wanted to share more about my life, where I live, the organizing work I’ve been doing since I last saw everyone, etc. Guess I didn’t feel like reflecting on any of that. For a few weeks I was able to disconnect from my daily reality and just be present wherever I was on the road and for whomever I was with in that moment. No need to think about last week’s organizing meeting or the school year starting next month. I haven’t been thinking about my life much beyond “where should I get my next meal?”
Oh, I also notice that any concept of what was “normal” before the pandemic is now firmly relegated to the past. This became very apparent to me when I was hanging with my Michigan people. I quarantined with my mom in suburban Detroit for a couple weeks last summer, visited some friends and family in their yards and driveways. The year-ago vibe was more “anxiously awaiting some scant sense of normalcy,” like, “Oh man, isn’t this insane! It’s good to see you. Hope we figure out what the hell is going on soon and get rid of Trump.” Well he’s gone, we all got vaccinated, and we supposedly don’t have to wear masks anymore. But we also don’t know who we can trust or when this pandemic will really be over. And we can no longer deny that certain aspects of our daily lives have likely changed forever. Add to that the fact that many of us have witnessed some sort of devastating extreme weather phenomenon in the past year. We’re different people now. We may feel safer in some ways, but we’ve all been steeped in trauma. And it isn’t as if the immediate future looks stable.
But for the most part I don’t feel sad about this new reality. Five years ago I used to stay awake at night wondering what I’d do to protect my family in an increasingly chaotic world. The future I feared is now. And while I wouldn’t have necessarily chosen to be alive at this precise moment in history, I’m adapting. We all are. My little family just traveled across the country with an unvaccinated child and kept her away from indoor public spaces almost the entire time. It was complicated but we made it work. I hope to get to a point where I can look back on this trip and think, “My god, what an insanely stressful time.” But at least for now I have the comfort of knowing I have learned a few things about how to keep my family safe in dangerous times.