During this pandemic, I am reminded of the famous sailor and Massachusetts native, Dodge Morgan. In 1986, he became the first American to sail solo around the world. He did it in a record breaking 150 days, without ever stopping, in a sloop that measured sixty feet long. Nice accommodations for a week long voyage, but a bit cramped for one that lasts half a year.
I met Morgan-now deceased- at his home in Maine many years ago, when a number of friends, who were fellow journalists, came to visit him for the week-end. I asked him what he did to pass the time during that five month, twenty-seven thousand mile journey around our planet, in limited space, with few recreational options, and no company. Not unlike conditions we are experiencing today.
“I made sure everything took a really long time,” he answered.
Smart strategy, when time is the commodity you have the most of. Use it well. Don’t just throw together a sandwich in two minutes flat. Plan the meal. Set the table. Take care preparing each course. Have three courses. Savor a glass of wine. Savor several. Make it special. Having time is a luxury. It allows careful cultivation, enhanced performance, and, ultimately, greater enjoyment. Isn’t that a valuable lesson for today? We have a choice. We can be bored with this surplus of time we have, or we can use it productively. No need to rush. No one will judge you. We’re all in the same boat. Poor pun.
Despite that comforting mentality, I am still reluctant to ignore this nagging expectation that I could be making better use of my free time. Perhaps by becoming proficient in Mandarin, or reading a classic, like the Bible. In my whole life I have never read the most widely purchased book of all time. And I went to Catholic school. As a matter of fact, I’ve never even gone beyond the first three words, “In the beginning” or in ancient Hebrew, “b’reisheet, which basically means the same thing.
I have no heart for those endeavors. But I do for others. So, maybe it’s wisest to do the things we can do. But, do them better, by simply employing Morgan’s tactic of cherishing the act and spending more time on it. Maybe this conscious, simple action, of devoting more minutes to fewer things, can yield enrichment not realized before. Fewer choices, but larger investments, equals greater rewards.
My sister in law, who is a marvelous cook, has been spending an inordinate amount of time on food preparation. She dons a mask and gloves, and dutifully drives to the grocery store for us several times a week. She peruses the Food 52 website for interesting, new recipes and creates beautiful meals for us most evenings. I have been keeping a photographic food journal- just because I can. Dinners have become the social high point of the day. We all look forward to them and they will probably be one of the more enduring personal memories of this bleak pandemic.
We are all approaching this vast window of time in similar ways. Who doesn’t now have, like me, a cleaner closet, clearer financial plan, better exercise program and more frequent contact with friends and family than before the crisis? Or, watched more interesting programs and read more books, including one -a timely choice- about Ebola, called The Hot Zone. As if this current pandemic weren’t enough to scare the bejesus out of me already. Friends who are working from home say it is harder to accomplish tasks remotely, but they do not complain. “I still have a job,” one friend gratefully reminds me. Another friend delivers meals to the needy. One friend is on a cleanse-she’s home all day alone so the timing is perfect. And another friend has given up alcohol – too awful an act to emulate-but has dropped ten pounds in the process. Everybody is trying to do something worthwhile.
And, why not? We all have fewer distractions now, which brings me to the most powerful parallel to our current situation and Morgan’s. His decision to take social distancing to an extreme. We have been forced into isolation. He chose it. Like Morgan, one of my brothers, a self proclaimed anti-socialist in the best of times, seems unbothered by this restriction.
“I’ve been this way all my life. It’s not much different now,” he announced during one of his brief appearances at dinner.
How we are born of the same mother is inexplicable to me. I, unlike my brother or Morgan, have, at times, endured even bad company rather than no company at all. So, I am grateful to be living through this pandemic with four other family members. They provide built in company. A community. People to share dinner with. Assuage fears with. Friends who live alone struggle. I am sympathetic and realize that, even with my little family closeby, I still miss the wider community, so what must they be feeling? No one longs to buy a new dress or take a trip. They just want company.
Pain is universal. Everyone is feeling it. Many, much more than others. It is hard to feel joyous and optimistic when we are told it will get only worse before it gets better. We worry collectively and individually. My mom is 89 years old. The virus targets her and others like her. Our world centers on keeping her safe, and the rest of us upbeat, in the face of uncertainty. She’s had so much life experience, she is practiced at overcoming or accepting the harder things that life throws at you. Wars. The depression. The loss of her parents. The loneliness she still feels after the death of my father. Yet, she has survived all of it. And in relatively good cheer. I am calmer when I, like her, adjust my expectations of happiness to my changed circumstances.
It’s remarkable that the whole world, regardless of differing time zones, governments, genders, ages, and cultures is experiencing exactly the same thing at exactly the same time.
This has never happened before. It’s almost democratic in scope. Communal suffering and a shared yearning for life as we have known it, and wish it to be again. I felt the stirrings of real excitement when President Trump outlined his three pronged plan to lift restrictions. Finally, we were going to see a slow return to normalcy. The thought of a restaurant visit, freedom to walk a beach or golf course, and genuine relief for those who would soon return to their places of business and income, was invigorating. Until I put my rational hat back on and recognized that nothing would happen in two weeks that would make me any safer than I am today. The only action that has cut the spread of Coronavirus is social distancing. And that is the only practice that continues to keep us safe until there is a cure. So, going forward, we will do what we have been doing, incrementally increasing freedoms, reducing risks and following the advice of Dodge Morgan, to enjoy what we are doing, by letting it take a really long time.