I once heard a riddle that went, “How far can a man walk into the forest?” And the answer is, “Halfway, and then he’s walking out of the forest.”
It is now Day 28 of Quarantine, and it’s finally starting to feel like we’re walking out of the forest.
We’re still tired and hungry and covered in mud, still a little disoriented and unsure of how much further we’ll need to walk, but it does feel like we’re on the way out.
And maybe next week I’ll be back writing about what a myopic, naïve thought that was. But for now, I’m going to embrace the good feeling. Because it’s been a rough road, walking into the forest, and we’ll all be glad to put it behind us.
It’s a careful balancing act that we’ve been asked to execute; not jumping the gun too quickly on everything going back to normal, but not wallowing in despair at the prospect that this is forever going to be our new normal. It’s been stressful, it’s been scary, and now that I can finally see a light at the end of the tunnel, I just want to take a moment to believe in the light. Call it an Easter miracle.
In this vein, I’ve started to think about what life lessons we’ll take away from living through this pandemic.
When all of this is over, will we keep washing our hands every time we go in and out of our houses? Will we still stand a little farther apart from each other at the grocery store? Be a little nicer to our trash collectors? Consider it weird not to have an entire case of toilet paper in the house at all times?
It’s hard to say, from inside the forest, what life is going to look like after we get back into civilization. Perhaps things will be exactly the same as they ever were, and our memory of these strange times will collectively fade in a generation or so. We’ve certainly refused to learn from the past a time or two before.
Personally, I would find it disappointing to hear that someone went through this experience without learning something worthwhile. Even if it’s just the smallest of epiphanies about how going outside a couple of times a week really does make you feel better. Life has never been like this before- how can you go through something so new and so different and come out the other side exactly the same person?
Of course, I’m really only speaking for myself. I can’t, and won’t, tell everyone what they should be learning from living under quarantine. How does that old saying go? You can lead a person to a new experience, but you can’t make them self-reflective about it?
Instead, I’ll tell you what I’ve learned from living under quarantine. I’ve learned that most of my problems in life are unimportant. I used to spend so, so much time worrying myself sick about little issues like how to interpret something my boss said at the office, or whether or not I needed to lose another ten pounds, or if I was spending enough time doing my French lessons. These seemed like big, important worries because I didn’t have anything else to put them into perspective. But after the last month, when all of a sudden those problems were dwarfed in comparison to the problem of keeping myself and my loved ones alive and safe, it’s impossible to look at them as anything other than piddling.
And I feel like that’s a step in the right direction. It may have taken a global pandemic to teach me to draw a distinction between the things that matter and the things that don’t, but the bottom line is that I’ve learned it.
I didn’t enjoy walking into the forest, but I’m glad to be walking out with a new perspective.