My husband, Paul, spent several hours trimming, sanding and painting a piece of plywood for me. It will enable me to assemble a jigsaw puzzle without one of our cats upsetting it while it’s in progress. When I’m not working on the puzzle, I can put it out of bounds of our frisky felines. Frankly, that’s the garage.

Paul bought me a cool puzzle for Christmas. It features the covers of classic Nancy Drew books, one of my favorite childhood series. I thought maybe I’d have time in the summer to work on it. Once I returned to work as a school librarian after the holiday break, I’d be too busy.

We all know how that turned out.

There are some Americans who are frantically busy, especially the health care professionals who are on the front line of caring for the sick. But for many of us, time has slowed. Opened up. It has suddenly become abundant.

That’s a silver lining.

The concept of “simple living” was a trend in the 1990s; it has morphed into the current trend of “minimalism.” Both movements, if they can be called that, emphasize experiences over material things.

The reasoning goes: Instead of spending our Saturday afternoons shopping for things we don’t need, we are happier if we spend time with the people we love, playing “Life,” or “Risk.”

And here we are, doing exactly that. Oh, I’m still spending money — on groceries, household goods, pet food. More money than usual, because I want to make sure I have a two-week supply on hand in case Paul and I fall ill. We’re eating in more. I have time to make more elaborate meals. I tell Paul that he’s never eaten better. If there’s TP on the supermarket shelf, I buy a package.

None of us knows how long this pandemic is going to last, or how bad the effects on the economy will be. So I don’t want to spend money on nonessential goods. I also don’t want to go shopping more than I have to. It’s such a stressful experience under these circumstances.

I have to steel myself to go to the grocery store. Then I turn off my mind as I unpack my purchases and sanitize the kitchen surfaces. If I don’t blank out temporarily, I’ll catastrophize. Finally, I meditate to calm myself down.

I’m an anxious person in the best of times, so it’s not surprising that, for me, a half-hour trip to the grocery store turns into an hour and 15 minutes of pure angst. On the other hand, the coronavirus is a real threat, and we all need to be careful, to take precautions.

Freaking out is optional. Well, I guess for some people.

I would be content not to shop for the duration. I would be happy to stay at home except for my daily walks (taken under the physical distancing protocol, of course), working and meeting online, binge-watching Netflix and Amazon Prime, reading and napping. Even my few online purchases have been for toiletries — not exactly necessities in the truest sense, although for women of a certain age (mine) retinol cream does come close.

In the 1990s, I read books about simple living and dreamed of a simpler life. I know how to do it. I grow vegetables and fruit every year. Until recently, Paul and I kept chickens. We are careful with our money, and as a result, when the opportunity presented itself, he was able to retire early.

My own work life, however, got busier and I had less time to pursue the goals of simpler living I’d set for myself. For example, I no longer started seedlings for my garden. I bought them.

I think life had taken the fast track for many of us, until the pandemic struck. When the economy is good, as it had been since the recession ended, it’s easier to take shortcuts, like eating out more. Wasn’t the joke that as American kitchens got bigger and fancier, they were used less?

Now, seed companies are reporting record sales. It took me two weeks to find flour in the supermarket. Even the King Arthur Flour site said their unbleached white flour was unavailable.

This is good news. It bodes well for our society. We can’t be happy right now, with the wolf called COVID-19 at our doors. But we can rediscover the joy of getting our hands in the dirt, in bread dough. Of spending real time with our loved ones, or just with ourselves.

I had felt that my country was on a scary path. Our president is volatile, unpredictable and wants to be an autocrat. The opioid epidemic was reaching far into our population; the effects on the children of addicts is becoming obvious. There was a sense of anger and recklessness in the way people drove and conducted themselves in public.

Now we have been given a chance to reflect on what is important and on how we want to live our lives in America. Let’s go bake some bread, and someday, break it together again.

 

Liz Soares welcomes email at [email protected]


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