BY JENNIE CONDON
“Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.” – Allen Saunders
If there’s one thing everyone in the world can agree on right now, it’s that it has been a crazy year so far. Whatever our backgrounds, politics or locations, we’ve all been affected in a variety of ways by the pandemic. Here in Oregon, we’ve spent almost five months with no definite end in sight, in different stages of closure and reopening. At the risk of penning yet another COVID-centric piece in a world awash with them, I’ve taken the approaching five-month mark as reason to step back and think about everything that has happened so far.
My own immediate family has been fortunate in that we’ve mostly kept both our health and our jobs, and our losses have largely been psychological. The inability to spend time together, both at home and away, has been hard, and hardest of all not being able to see my almost 2-year-old nephew. We’ve cancelled, rescheduled, and cancelled again my mom’s long-awaited retirement vacation-and-party, and all three of her 70th birthday trips (this was not a good year, it turns out, for each of us to decide that experiences were better than physical gifts). And we’ve tried to make the limbo we inhabit tolerable by making post-covid plans, ignoring the months ahead in favor of a time when everything will be “normal” again: when there’s a vaccine, we’ll babysit for a month just to make up for the lost time. When there’s a treatment, we’ll go camping with our friends again. When it’s safe, we can hug our parents again.
But as I thought about the past months, I was struck most by all the life that has been happening while we’ve been making those other plans. We’ve spent hours upon hours in driveways and yards, just talking and spending physically distanced time with one family member or friend at a time. We’ve figured out how to go on local “adventures” while staying outdoors and far away from those not in our household. We’ve made somewhere around 900 masks to give to family, friends, co-workers, and more. We’ve worked from home, from work, and from the parking lot (sometimes you just have to go where the Zoom reception is best). We’ve looked out for each other and been looked out for, with the group texts flying (“Who said they needed flour? They have it at Safeway!”). We’ve had virtual wine-tasting, game night, and gardening. We’ve perfected the parking lot hostage-style exchange of bleach, books, and Girl Scout cookies: park far apart, one person brings their goods, sets them down in the center, and retreats, and then the other person goes and picks them up – laughing at the ridiculousness the whole time.
Ten years from now, it’s the life we’ll remember, not the plans. That life may be messy or heartbreaking, certainly, especially for those who lose friends or family or have to spend years rebuilding livelihoods. But if all we focus on is what we are going to do on the other side, we’ll miss the moments – even the sad ones that may shape us going forward, or the laughter that makes the tears more bearable. We still need the plans, of course, because running headlong into each day without an idea of how we’ll handle it is no way to go about being functioning adults, especially in ever-changing times.
For myself, though, I’m going to make sure I appreciate the life that is happening while I make those plans. I hope you will join me in looking at each day as a chance to create meaning and memories, instead of just a hurdle on the way to a grander goal.
Jennie Condon is the Aquatics Program Manager and Head Swim Coach at the Mittleman Jewish Community Center. A lifelong aquatics professional, she has been part of the MJCC community for 10 years.