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Out of Control

The pendulum of uncertainty and conjecture continues to trace an erratic and unpredictable path through our lives with this virus. Wear gloves, don’t wear gloves; don’t wear a mask, wear a mask (but not one meant for protection from airborne germs like medical people use – a simple piece of cloth like a tee shirt will be fine for you); it is fine to go to the grocery store, the home improvement store, or to Walmart, it is a fineable offense if you go to the beach or a park. And so on. Contradictions, mis-statements, and well-intentioned yet mis-guided attempts to provide the people with steps that they can take to help protect themselves, to help regain a little control over their life. Remember, at the beginning, all one need do is wash their hands? We were assaulted with a blast of information from every conceivable angle all aimed at reassuring you that if you simply wash your hands, you’d be fine. They even set the task to music – sing Happy Birthday to ensure you wash them long enough to ensure the virus is dead and gone.

That, of course, is still the best thing you can do with any virus or germs – wash your hands a lot and don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. But it is apparently not enough to combat this airborne and possibly aerosol virus. And therein lies the huge weight bearing down upon most every person in the country; we don’t know what to do. People do well in a crisis situation when provided with a finite and distinct set of conditions; tell then exactly what to do, how to do it, why to do it, and for how long to do it and they will perform admirably. But introduce uncertainty into the mix and performance begins to pale. Tell them to do one thing, but then change it later and tell them not to do that, but to do something else instead and the weave of the fabric begins to unravel. Tell them to do it for a specific amount of time, a number of days for example, then change it…increase it? The whole thing starts falling apart. It is just how people are in such chaos; they need specific and accurate steps to follow, like finding the way out of a maze. Telling them to stop, turn around, and go back is never well received.

Much of it is about control of course; people crave control over their lives and desperately rationalize ways to convince themselves that they do have control over their life. Much of that comes is born of the “free will” concept – the mirage of freedom of choice. Given how difficult life can be for a person – filled with financial burdens, emotional baggage, worries, cares, concerns, and fears we all carry – we can sometimes be left to feel like a speck of dust in the wind, tossed capriciously about with no idea where we’ll end up next. And certainly, with no idea on how to stop it – no control. We yearn for every little modicum of control we can get in our lives, whether truly tangible or not. And this virus has stripped almost every last bit of control over our lives from us all.

We can’t arise on a sunny Saturday morning and decide to go to the hobby store to pick up a kite to fly in the park. We can’t stare out the window on a rainy day and decide to go to the movies. At the end of a long day, we can’t decide to go to our favorite restaurant for our favorite meal. We really can’t do much of anything; all that control over our lives has been stripped away by this pandemic. Even working has been affected: you either can’t go to work because it was closed as non-essential or you have to go to work, terrified each day of the exposure to the virus, because you are essential. No control. Even those in between – those working from home – which before all this sounded like a dream come true to many, isn’t quite as nice as envisioned because it was forced upon them. No control. And when can we go out, where can we go, what can we do are all dictated by each of our own state’s policies and unique requirements, but not by us – no free will, no freedom of choice…no control.

So it is so much more important now than ever that we all find a way to hold some level of control in our lives. That can only come from understanding the boundaries of our individual box and the rules for existing inside it. Knowing what you can and cannot do and then deciding what you will do is exercising control in your life. A routine is critically important as well. I know that when I retired, I quickly (and mostly unconsciously) developed a new routine to my life. After 44 years of getting up before dawn and going to work, I needed something to replace that. Not that I wanted to – I needed to. It is about the tempo, the cadence, of life. We all march to a different drumbeat, but we all have a drumbeat. That is how we help maintain control over our lives.

I made the comment to my wife last night that I was struggling with all this; without even having to think about it I intuitively knew it was because I had lost so much control over my life. But as I considered my words, I acknowledged that, in the macro view, life had not changed all that much for me. It was not like I went a thousand different places every day that were now off-limits or closed. I would go to the liquor store once a week, grocery shopping twice a week, and out to eat a couple of times a week. The rest of the time would be spent either here at home, in the house or in the yard, or out in the woods hiking. So the majority of my weekday time is being spent much as it always was. But when I need to run to the hardware store, I can’t just go do that. I have to weight the possible infection risk over the need for whatever it is and the urgency of the item. Can it wait? Can I get it online? Can I find a work around? Or, I just ate the last…whatever it might be; I can’t just run to the store to get more now. Loss of control. My free will to suddenly decide to go get some items to start a project is now gone. The ability on a rainy day to decide, let’s go do an early movie and lunch is now lost. No control.

But my kids and grandkids? There’s a hole through which you could drive a truck. They would all come every Wednesday night; now Wednesday nights are just like every other night. Weekends? We’d pick up the three grandkids Saturday morning and have them until it was time to go home on Sunday night. Both days of the weekend filled with craziness, laughter, and fun. And often their cousin would come over to play as well. Laser tag, bike riding, RC trucks, swimming, water balloons, and a thousand other fun things, all gone. No smile, no laughter, no noise; no control.

But you compensate – you have to. You seek other ways to grasp some control. You find an alternative routine, a different drumbeat with which to march. You find other ways to fil the holes. We FaceTime a lot with them. Every Sunday night driving them home I would tell them a story, so every Sunday night I climb into my truck, dial them up on the iPhone, and I tell them a story; a sense of routine, a sense of control.

Much the same in the rest of life; you adapt and reinvent your rhythm. Instead of grocery shopping in the store, I now use the computer to find delivery times and order our food. My relationship with Amazon and UPS is on a whole different scale now. The mail delivery has also achieved an elevated status in my day!! But beyond that, I painted our bedroom, I finally got that toilet repaired, I am clearing and cleaning old storage areas, and of course – lots of yard work. Another five yards of loam, my new wood chipper, more trees to fell and cut up, and the new garden – all projects to keep me busy, to help establish and maintain a rhythmic routine, and to help me regain some control in my life. I urge you all to begin to so the same dear readers, although I suspect you already have. We humans are marvelous creatures, with almost unlimited internal strength and fortitude, great perseverance, and an indefatigable drive to find the best in the worst – it is within us all. And we shall get through this. While the path there remains shrouded still, not seeing it does not mean it isn’t there – there is a path out. And with one step at a time, and maybe a step back here or there, we’ll get there. Stay well.

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