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I was driving on a familiar road this morning on my way to have labs done as part of my cardiac follow-up care, enjoying the lush green early August foliage.
I have lived in the area since 1985 and never fail to appreciate the Bucks County, Pennsylvania beauty.
I like to say that the fall foliage rivals that of New England. Nature is a component of what has gotten me through the past year and a half since COVID-19 made its ferocious presence known.
Tree hugging was a temporary fix when I couldn’t hug people other than myself. Walking barefoot in the grass, sitting by the water, cloud and star gazing, and splashing in the ocean were immune system builders.
Early on, when I would take walks in my neighborhood, I would muse that if I didn’t know there was a virus out there, making people terribly ill or even killing them, I would have no clue.
Nature continued doing what it does. The sky changed colors, the trees morphed from season to season. The wind whistled through, and rain and snow pelted and wafted as it pleased.
I do some of my best thinking in the car, and as my little Hyundai zipped along, I asked myself, “What would I be doing if the pandemic never existed?”
In the before times, I was a therapist, journalist, minister, editor, and public relations person. I still wear those titles and continue to do those tasks, albeit online.
My psychotherapy practice is carried out via telehealth. The only thing I did back then that is on hold was teaching in-person classes and facilitating face-to-face workshops. I miss those. For a few years, I sat on carpeted floors in daycare centers and pre-schools and taught mindfulness to tiny humans ages three to six.
Since 2005, I have facilitated a workshop called Cuddle Party, which is about communication, boundary setting, and safe, nurturing, platonic touch by consent. Adults attend, dressed in pajamas, sweats, or yoga clothes, and after a welcome circle that involves ice breaker exercises and reviewing the Rules of Cuddling, people are invited to hug, snuggle, and massage—all with a verbal yes.
Up until early 2020, I have facilitated over 400 of these gatherings. The benefits of that kind of experience are multi-fold: good for the body, good for the mind, and good for the soul. I would always leave them on an oxytocin high.
For such a long time, it felt like part of my identity, not just a job description.
I have no idea when I will feel ready to return since I feel responsible for setting a safe container, not only just emotionally but also physically, for my participants. I know that when it does happen, I will require proof of vaccination and mask-wearing.
In some ways, I feel robbed of something I was born to do. I told my parents that they raised me to be a Cuddle Party facilitator.
Since 2014, I have traveled the country (and Canada and Ireland) offering free hugs as the co-founder of Hugmobsters Armed With Love. That, too, went on a hiatus for a year and a half. Recently, I have ventured out and hugged vaccinated people.
I can’t imagine that the virus will keep us apart forever since skin hunger is just as vital a need to meet as food hunger. Without nurturing physical touch, people fail to thrive.
Although I am not prone to depression or anxiety, I found myself plummeting at times in worry, fear, and despair, floundering in waves that felt overwhelming. It was then that I turned inward to what I call the God of my understanding and to family and friends.
I bless the marvels of modern technology. There are some days that I am living in the just don’t know and uncertainty. My father used to say, “We never know what tomorrow brings.” Today, I feel stable.
If the pandemic had not wreaked havoc, I would go blithely through my days on autopilot. It calls on me to be more mindful and conscious of my choices and how they affect everyone in the world.
I made a list as I traversed the roads of what would have happened without the pandemic:
1. I would be traveling. My best friend and I had planned a trip to New Mexico in 2020.
2. I would be going to concerts.
3. I would be inviting people into my house for gatherings.
4. I would be accepting more invitations to other people’s homes.
5. I would be going to the movies.
6. I would be eating out.
7. I would never even have conceived of wearing a mask. Now, it is a constant companion.
8. I would be facilitating in-person workshops and classes.
9. I would hug without hesitation.
10. I would attend in-person spiritual services.
11. I would be far less worried about my health and that of family and friends.
12. I would still be working out at my gym.
But I also compiled a list of the things I have gained during the pandemic:
1. I increased my therapeutic caseload, sadly because people are in greater need of counseling.
2. I saved money on gas and eating out.
3. I have been cooking healthier meals.
4. I joined a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and have farm-fresh food and flowers each week.
5. I had a room in my house renovated that once contained a retired hot tub. It is now a solarium with plants and sunlight streaming in.
6. I had a deck built that is now part of my haven home. I sit out there and soak up Vitamin D when I can.
7. I have had more writing fodder between the pandemic and the political climate.
8. I developed an even greater appreciation for the people in my life.
9. I am extremely grateful that I have a stable job doing what I love and can pay my bills.
10. My spiritual practice has deepened; there are times when I am in a stream of consciousness prayer flow each day.
11. I created a gym in my living room where I can work out in between seeing clients.
12. I have gotten adept at Zoom calls.
13. I faced my own gremlins that have me judging people who don’t see the world as I do.
14. I set boundaries around what I am comfortable doing.
15. I ask for what I want more often when in the past I would only ask for what I thought people would say yes to.
16. I am taking more naps.
17. I sat in silence, staring into space.
18. I have strengthened my intuitive abilities and allow messages to come through.
I have no clue when we are able to resume what passed for normal activities. Even after being fully vaccinated in February, I continue to wear a mask.
Remember I mentioned that I receive messages?
As I am typing this, the Styx song “The Best of Times” is playing. Although it is meant to be a love song, these lyrics leapt out at me:
“The headlines read ‘these are the worst of times’
I do believe it’s true
I feel so helpless, like a boat against the tide
I wish the summer winds could bring back Paradise.”
What would you be doing had the pandemic never been? What were your gifts delivered by COVID-19?