July 21, 2020

The Quote that helped me Find Meaning in a Pandemic.

“Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: Is this the condition that I feared?” ~ Seneca

In mid-March, my husband, 15-month-old son, and I took a walk.

It was one of those early, acutely anxious days of the pandemic when we were still watching the press conferences, looking toward summer with a baseless certainty that this would soon be over. Like a seasonal hurricane, we’d nail up the plywood and store the bottled water and charge the batteries, all the while thinking—knowing—there would be a sudden change of direction. And even if there wasn’t, we would hunker down and ride it out, secretly hoping for such a thrill. 

We assumed. We waited. 

And then we walked. 

We walked because us doers didn’t know what else to do. Because we were suddenly stuck indoors with our toddler—need I say more. Because working from home was starting to morph into that one long day. We needed air. 

In the two years since we moved into our neighborhood, it might have been the first time we’d done this. Why walk when we could rush home from work, barely say hi to each other and then dart out again to a yoga class or a dinner meeting? Why walk when we could leave the kid with his grandparents and go out to a bustling restaurant where we would complain about how tough it all was? Why walk when we could instead stare at our phones, catching up on other people’s lives?

We walked the next day, and the next, and the next. We walked through my final, waddling trimester of pregnancy. Through the first chaotic few weeks with a newborn and a toddler. Through the abrupt shift from spring to Florida summer. Through canceled commitments we were certain we’d make. And every day since.

We’ve talked about religion, education, and what our future might look like. We’ve made plans, reminisced, and reminded ourselves how lucky we are. We’ve discovered our own little world along the way: the house with pet parrots, the fence with the best lizards, the father and son with their epic game of frisbee-golf.

Some days we walk in silence. Some days we crack jokes. Some days we fight—cooped up frustration getting the best of us. But most days we just amble along contentedly, appreciating this one small certainty. This ritual that four months ago might have seemed like a waste of time. 

Strip away the busyness, the appointments, the noise, and what’s left?

I’m reminded of that quote by the stoic Seneca, which challenges us to ponder our own worst-case scenario. Before March, for us, it might have been an existence without commitments. Too much time with nothing to do. Confinement. Boredom. 

But now, after all those long walks, it feels different. It feels like an overdue pause. Space to breathe. 

Is this the condition that I feared? 


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