Everything around you bears witness to life but you do not always see it that way. Once you begin to notice it, the ordinary turns every moment into a scavenger hunt for of joy replete with the promise of more. A rainbow appears in your kitchen, bright blue with a yellow handle bursting with multicolor packaging. What looked like rubbish a blink ago doesn’t anymore: Your gaze has transformed it into art.
Sheltering in place during the pandemic is a refresher course about what matters most.
The tap tap tap of fingers on a keyboard as minds think out loud in machine and human language is the reassuring soundtrack to your days. The enthusiastic gurgle of the kettle forecasts the imminent arrival of gentleness in liquid format. Soup simmering on the stove splashes bright yellow over the kitchen tiles, smelling of fresh mint and love. Every cauldron of caring kitchen magic is a three-course meal: Anticipation as an appetizer, soup as an entrée, gratitude as dessert.
Stay put for a while and the aching beauty of ordinariness will make itself known. Contentment is a lot more accessible than you thought. This realization smarts. All that time spent chasing shiny and getting frustrated with how elusive it remained could have been joy.
It’s not too late to tune in.
But first, a message from our sponsor: Capitalism demands we focus relentlessly on infinite growth. When growth starts to recede, panic sets in because we cannot conceive of contentment that isn’t contingent on something else.
The to-do list of material love is evergreen, only ever one checked box away from self-actualization. Meanwhile, we treat life like a credit card with unlimited balance, indulging the self at the expense of the common good. Every day is a desperate effort to palliate the absence of human warmth with pursuits and things that make the moment bearable. You numb discomfort with anything that provides relief. You stuff the void within with whatever is at hand.
And when you can’t, your mind turns into a cage you cannot escape from. Greed is insatiable. Every word, every gesture, every action must service it, expanding its girth at the same time. You get more so you want more and when you get even more, you want even more, trapped in an all-consuming obsession with status, success, and stuff. Social media offers quick fixes so you become addicted to that, too. We’re big blundering apes in socks looking at ourselves in the digital mirror, pointing, grinning, beating our chests.
And the lives we spectate always look better than ours
The digital mirror distorts but does not lie; each of us has a unique presence with a unique footprint. Right now, we’re all staring at our feet. What lies on the other side of this utterly bizarre moment in human history? Who will we be when we emerge? And will we even remember how to walk?
For now, your sense of identity may be a bit fuzzy. A pandemic has upended the lovingly assembled puzzle of your life and scattered pieces all over the place. You scramble to gather whatever you can salvage while attempting to maintain an illusion of control. This is a reality none of us have experienced before so it’s OK to be concerned and feel a little unsettled.
No human being is a tank, no matter how mentally and physically strong you may be.
The glut of noise, it seems, is getting much harder to parse now. Clickbait either predicts doom or conveys a false sense of security, urging us to pretend everything is fine. Fake it till you make it, pandemic edition. And yet, no amount of make believe rings true this time around, appearances don’t stick anymore but sometimes we don’t know who we are without them. So we will ourselves to remain on brand and on message despite the disconnect, hoping to stall the inevitable fall.
Growth, though. Despite the urgent need for solidarity, there’s no shortage of folks rushing to pick the pockets of the most vulnerable.
That kind of profiteering doesn’t scale but human creativity does, hence the gift of new perspectives. Things we had never noticed before or overlooked become visible, things we had always focused on disappear. Unfortunately, this also happens several times a day, as if all the pieces of the puzzle had ended up in the blender and you were trying to fish them out.
The pandemic may well be a funeral wake for your old life but it doesn’t mean the next one cannot bring contentment regardless of circumstances.
It is humbling to understand you don’t know better than the universe and oddly comforting to realize no one else does, either.
We’re all clueless.
There’s nothing to prove, nowhere to go, nothing to achieve while we incubate the next phase of human evolution other than keep going, one way or another.
And allow your ego to take a backseat.
When you can’t escape reality, you start looking around. Casting a quizzical eye upon the individual components that make up your ordinary they take on newfound significance. Like an archaeologist, you unearth layer upon layer of wealth you never even knew were there once you engage all your senses. For example, standing under the shower for a while can help reset your harried mind. And make you feel more capable.
It’s the little big things that carry us, the small nuggets of joy we uncover at random when we decide to pay attention to the ordinary. None of those things stand out on their own but their humble, quiet, steadfast presence can offer reassurance. What is the light like outside your window? What do you hear? What does the air smell like? How does coffee taste when you prepare it with care and sip it instead of guzzling it down?
The people, goods, and services we used to take for granted are now more precious than ever and we’re beginning to value them as such.
Whether you defer to science, religion, or both, human life isn’t a mirage but a miracle and we’re all on the same page right now. And so is the internet, our trusted mirror turned lifeline as human warmth pivoted to digital overnight. On balance, a life pared down to basics is finally honest, authentic, and real because vulnerability knows no other way to be.
Take heart, it’s not the end of anything: It’s the beginning of everything.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor now based in the Netherlands. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.