It’s Okay if You Can’t Right Now
I woke up this morning, our sixth week of sheltering-in-place, or maybe our seventh (I’ve lost count) and the days have started to run together in a way they never have before. I thought time only worked like that in memory. When I think of the summer after high school or Christmas breaks when I was small, the days are indistinct, all blurred together. They’re a longing feeling in my throat, a fuzzy photo at the bottom of a shoe box.
But that’s not how time is supposed to work in the present. In the present, days are distinct units of time, separated by the bold lines in our calendars, each one carrying a different obligation. There are weekdays and weekends, there are classes on some days, and workouts on others, a dinner with friends on a Thursday or a birthday party on a weekend that you don’t really want to go (but if you hadn’t been invited, you’d have been a little offended).
When the world is normal, each day is different, even if subtly so. But the world isn’t normal, and so the days run together, and I wake up wondering if anything will make this particular one stand out. If I’ll do something today – anything at all – or if I won’t.
And a lot of the time the answer is: I won’t.
I have watched people doing things. From the comfort of my home office, I have absorbed their heartfelt, painstaking, beautiful work. I marvel at their sourdough bread loaves (so many loaves!) and their elaborate meals. I wonder if I should make a sourdough starter? It seems like the thing to do. Feeding something in my home, making it come alive. The company sounds nice. I don’t do it. There is yeast in my fridge, because of course there is. I live in the northwest. I’ve been prepping for an earthquake for the last decade and a half. Of course I have yeast, and flour, and sugar and batteries. My pantry is full. I even managed to snag a grocery delivery slot for myself this weekend.
Look how well I’m doing. Healthy and whole and never leaving my house. Look, look, look.
One day I give my husband an excellent haircut and myself a mediocre one, and I post the photos online, because I need people to see. I want them to comment on the excellent job I did, but I also want them to know that I did something. Because so much of my day is spent not doing anything. So much of my day is spent simply trying to breathe while watching the world fall apart.
I’m fine. I’m fine. By some grace of circumstance and science, my family is okay. I get angry at myself for being so wrecked by everything, for coming unspooled like a ball of yarn rolling down a hill because look, I’m whole and okay and so are my loved ones, and so few people can say that.
I bet some of you have done that to yourselves, too.
But this is a reminder that you are allowed to grieve, even if you are fine. You are allowed to grieve and be angry and become undone because you know that the world isn’t fine. You aren’t a sociopath. You see people being buried in mass graves in New York, and a part of you withers. You see that Florida won’t shut its beaches and you want to throw something, because you know it just means more. of. this. The President withholds medical equipment to punish governors who won’t kiss his ring and you want to scream to the heavens because you feel powerless and you can’t even leave your house. You aren’t a sociopath. These things bother you, even as you sit comfortably on your couch.
The weight of all of this sits on your chest and limbs and makes it hard to move or breathe or even open your eyes. And yet somehow, you still feel the pressure to make the days distinct. To have them make sense. To create, and put things out in the world. That is what other people are doing. Bu some days, you just can’t. You can’t create. You can’t make a sourdough starter. You can barely watch television, because the sight of characters, touching one another, breathing and kissing and laughing and yelling out in a world less broken than this one is just too much.
And maybe it’s okay if you can’t right now. Maybe treading water is enough. People are making beautiful things. My neighbor weeds her perfect garden. Young actors make clever videos from their homes. My husband gets dressed and does his perfect hair (you’re welcome) and dutifully works (he is working. All the time. He is on podcasts and on webinars and making videos and accidentally bombing Instagram with his perfect, perfect abs). This is how they cope.
I laud them for it.
But for some of us, maybe it is enough just to keep our heads above water. It’s okay if you can’t right now. It’s okay if you can’t write now. Or cook. Or paint. Or make sourdough bread. It is enough that you are here, breathing. It is enough that your heart is beating, over and over and over again, refusing to stop, in this storm of a world, on this day that has blended in with all the rest. And tomorrow – which may be a Saturday or a Wednesday, and I can tell you from the bottom of my soul, it does not matter, either way – your heart and lungs will endeavor to do it again. And that is enough right now.