COVID JAHRZEIT: commemorating the Year of 2020


Inner perspectives photo R Willis


In the Jewish tradition we observe a jahrzeit, a commemoration or annual honoring of an event usually the death of a loved one; for me March 11, 2020 marks my Covid jahrzeit. As in the time of war, communities and nations throughout the world would be disrupted, people would retreat, and tragically, in the US, more citizens would perish than in our major wars combined.

March 11, 2020 is marked on my calendar as the last care-free, blithe gathering of friends.  A group of us celebrated a birthday at a cafe. We ordered lattes and espressos, a cake and gifts were snuck in by a brilliant coup de main. I still can see our friend Helene's look of shock as our group sprung out of the corners of the cafe, and much  like any great Mossad undertaking, we pulled off a successful covert mission to surprise Helene who had experienced a challenging year.

March 11, 2020 also marked my last self-indulgent salon highlights and trim appointment. Today, I have still not yet ventured out to the hair dresser and am still in my DIY hair mode. There is no denying my expensive, polished, urban look- it’s gone- utterly disappeared. Now fully au naturelle: I’m almost unrecognizably transformed. Like jungle vines that reclaim a lost city deep in the Amazon forest, my salt and pepper, untamed, un-chemically enhanced hair has reclaimed my carefully treated civilized auburn, highlighted- ombre locks. Age is showing!

And, as many of us who like to observe year cycles, we look back after a year of withdrawal and remember our last human gathering. None of us knew how important that little or perhaps grand event would be. I learned since, what a privilege it is to interact with humans at every level. Privileges such as visiting friends, people-watching at a café, grabbing a pizza with friends, or simple banal encounters at a mall store, were over. The pandemic like a nuclear bomb, upended many of our norms. We would be introduced to food disruptions, lock-downs, shortages, and staggering human loss.

As a blogger for a well-being website, I find it useful to view some lessons learned through the prism of positive gains. What have I learned?

Finding deeper meaning of the mundane:

I am more aware of how important daily, seemingly unimportant run-ins with people are. Saying hello to a passing neighbor became suddenly a far more meaningful encounter. I savored a wave from across the street, I cheered up in watching a neighbor’s cartoonish dog-frolic. Walking the neighborhood became one of my most important windows to the outside, physical world. I’ve always been a gym rat, a gym had always been my second home and fellow work-out fanatics, my second family. With my work-out haven now closed, I found the exercise rewards in the physical act of walking and the chance street encounters to be to priority in my life.

It’s not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: what are we busy about?  (Purported) words by, Henry David Thoreau

Did we really have to have all those faculty meetings in person? Did I really have to meet in person to get things done?  Most of us became aware that our pre-pandemic life had been usurped by getting cross-town to meetings.  Driving somewhere to meet, getting ready for the meeting, getting dressed for the meeting, finding a parking space, fighting traffic to get back home… these in-person business oriented meet-ups swallowed grand swaths of precious time and liters of polluting petrol fuel.  

Lesson learned: we waste too much time, use too much gas.   Virtual meetings liberated me. I imagine what Thoreau might have said to me about my pre-pandemic life: “Girl, you waste extraordinary amount of time in your car”.  For me, liberating hours in the week equates with greater self-growth and happiness. I feel Thoreau would have approved of how I’ve spent my pandemic-gained spare time.

Through discipline comes freedom, Aristotle

I’ve quoted Aristotle in this blog before as I identify with what he teaches us about happiness and virtue. The forced shut-downs and curtailing of social events nudged us with opportunities to develop and strengthen self-discipline, which Aristotle extols to be the foundation of a healthy life. Certainly, life-long honing of self-discipline is a pillar of On the Training Table philosophy.

An example: I no longer could go to my yoga class so I had to overcome excuses and work hard to create the yoga classes for myself. I found tremendous value in being thrust by myself to develop my own vinyasa choreography or lesson plans if you will. When I felt the need to advance my skills past what I’d previously learned in class, I would check online classes to expand my routines. Developing this self-directed yoga course for myself has been a spiritual growth opportunity. Aristotle is known for terse, concise writing and I imagine Aristotelian spirit to have said to me: “Girl, quality is not an act it is a habit”  ,get out of the chair, roll out the yoga mat, turn off Netflix, and start your workout.

 

The Paradox

But at the same time, a self-contradiction is- as I discovered, the value in the shared experience of doing yoga as a group. I miss having a human teacher, I miss stretching and flexing with a common body of students.

Thus, the forced isolation is a seemingly paradoxical twofold win: I strengthened my character by developing my own yoga goals and followed the directions of my inner-teacher self. At the same time, I understood at a deeper level how powerful is the experience of physically being together with other yoga students and working on goals together. I think this lesson of connectivity is the lesson learned for many students, parents, and teachers when forced into virtual instruction and learning. The paradox is there is value on relying on self, but there is equal value in working together as a group. The Covid isolation, as Mother of Necessity, nudged me into learning to balance the two.

Precious discovery of time

Perhaps for me personally, the pandemic gave me one of the greatest treasures of all: spare time. With less time spent “driving to places” and “stuck “at home, I rediscovered activities I had started in my 20s, keeping in mind I am now in my late 60s. Again, the covid paradox presented two seemingly conflicting states of mind: both anxiety of isolation and fear of stepping outside the house in contrast a peaceful step into myself. This inward move provided freedom of time, space, and distraction-free opportunities to grow as a person. I cannot recall a time where I’ve developed more except perhaps the year I took off between high school and college where I travelled and worked abroad in Europe and Israel. Hopefully now, freshly Covid-19 vaccinated, I will step out of my house more, but with a profoundly renewed comprehension of using time for self-growth.

My car was a rolling Minute Clinic

Another covid-paradox: fear is good. I experienced the stress flight or fight threat response every time I geared up to enter a store: mask up, disposable gloves, sanitized wipes, germ killing sprays, alcohol swabs…my car was a rolling Minute Clinic ready to attend the incoming.

I can speak only for myself as a 68-year-old; I felt constantly threatened with the knowledge that any wrong move could land me sick or dead with Covid. A trip to the grocery store had become perilous, and much like in a war, I felt the anxiety of seeing every customer as an enemy that could potentially kill me. Going down aisles was to dodge artillery, only instead of bullets, every customer I passed could shoot me with a spiked corona.,

The constant danger triggered a flurry of problems. Quite aside from anxiety, the stress was also causing hive break-outs and strange bumps that erupted on my arms. My face broke out as well due to mask-wearing.

I dreamt (still do) repeatedly that I enter a room full of mask-less people and begin interacting with them. Suddenly I realize I forgot to put on a mask.  I panic, because too late, it registers, I am in danger of catching Covid and now, I can’t do anything about the fact that I let my guard down. It's a horrible, repeat-dream.

Fear as pathway

However, incongruously, this very anxiety is in the end what nudged me into sitting down and meditating. Thus paradoxically,  the Covid threat turned out to be an important pathway to a feeling of safety and shelter.

Already a stressed-out personality-type in pre-pandemic times, I have felt for years that I needed to create space and time to still my thoughts. I just never slowed down long enough to make meditation or sitting quietly, a habit. I turn on the television to calm me down which is quite the opposite of what I really need: stillness, quiet.

The pandemic presented me with the opportunity and frankly the need to create a segment of time to go inward. I’ve discovered that the natural sequala of slowing down and breathing to be:

  • Slowing my inner mind chatter that puts me on frayed  edge
  • Experiencing the present that allowed me to stop my constant what if? mind-set which constantly spins in a hamster circle identifying hazards and potential problems around every corner, which results in squelching spontaneity and fun.
  • Saturating myself by the feelings of gratefulness and gratitude
Sink into grace

With stories of hundreds of thousands dying during this pandemic, I could only sink into moments where I stopped my mind from wanting this or that, and just sink into grace with a renewed understanding of gratitude for what I have.

 

Existentialism in the Time of Covid

There is only one day left, always starting over: it is given to us at dawn and taken away from us at dusk- Jean-Paul Sartre

And if the term existential ever meant anything to me, this year, this week, marks a time where I have had the opportunity to understand and grapple with the existential tenets of a philosophy that believes every individual is responsible (a free agent) for developing their own self during this lifetime on earth. How many of us felt trapped as did Bill Murray in the existential repeat scene in Groundhog Day; wake up and do same thing over and over during this year?

As repetitive, boring or absurd as it’s been, our remote or zoom world, presents us a renewed opportunity to get it right every day, over and over again. I am double vaccinated now and what I want to bring forward as I emerge from this isolating repetitive existence, is that I hold on to those lessons of slowing down, continue with a self- focus, and spiritual self-growth.

 What I fear most, What I want most

What I fear most, as I emerge from my protective home that I see much like an Ashram, is driving too many hours to get to too meetings and too many places for too many reasons. The busyness will distract and negate my spiritual gains. I really dread losing this important new discovery that we can save time with remote technology and thus save time for our selves for what matters most: self- growth.

My challenge hence forward, as I transition back into a face-to-face more analog world, is to take these priceless lessons of this extraordinary year.  I will travel, I will meet my cherished friends and my family face to face often in person rather than virtually. However, moving forward as I mark the Covid Jahrzeit, I will try to hold on to the lessons learned during mandated alone-time or socially distanced time.

I may return to pre-pandemic activities: shopping, eating out, clubs, gyms, work office, concerts, live entertainment, travel, and dinner parties. However, I want to make it a priority to be mindful and not get swallowed up by car-time or busy-time.

creating space for meditation
March 22, 2021
photo: R Willis

 I am incorporating into The Training Table the lesson learned this pandemic: staying too busy, driving too much merely delays meaningfulness in my life. I don’t think I understood this quite as much as now.




 

 


Spiritual Context Epilogue

 To Everything There Is a Season

As the Ecclesiastes 3 prayer conveys “For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under

heaven”

 I found this Covid “Season” to be:

A Time to grow spiritually and deepen my awareness: find a greater purpose for daily life free from

social trappings of shopping impressing, needing material things.

A Time to appreciate friends: who can forget the first zoom with friends or family? What a rush to see them, if only virtually.

A Time to prioritize: understand what is fundamentally most relevant in one’s world and work to rid oneself of distractions.

A Time to recognize the value of what we have:  gratitude for every healthy moment, covid has taught us that health is not a given.

A Time to slow down and help ourselves physically: working out and physical activity is paramount in nurturing body, mind, spirit.

A Time to work through emotions: what feelings are keeping me from a sense of peace and why?

A Time to assess one’s activities: am I using my time to evolve as a positive human?

 

Ecclesiastics 3 put to music by the Byrds is a good place to conclude this Covid Jahrzeit entry.

To everything, (turn, turn, turn,)

To every season (turn, turn, turn,)

And a time to every purpose, under heaven

 

A time to be born, a time to die

A time to plant, a time to reap

A time to kill, a time to heal

A time to laugh, a time to weep

Thank you for reading and allowing me to share this covid jahrzeit on The Training Table. Feel free to write and share your jahrzeit with me or with friends. 

To discern a deeper purpose, is one of The Training Table’s most important outcomes of the year 2020- 2021.

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

 

 

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