Close to Home: After a Month of Sundays, already missing sheltering in place

I never imagined our society would experience a month of Sundays, but in a sense this is what has happened during the COVID-19 pandemic.|

It's an odd and ambiguous term: a month of Sundays. I've long wondered if it means a month of liberation from work or simply a long time (Webster's definition). Is it a religious idea of 30 straight days to nurture one's spirit, or perhaps the wishful desire of hard-toiling workers for a full month of rest?

I never imagined our society would experience a month of Sundays, but in a sense this is what has happened during the COVID-19 pandemic. The world has been given a break. As the poet David Whyte said in April on Zoom, “we've all been sent to our rooms.”

I became sick on March 10. It was an illness that felt unlike any other: the virus seemed to have a life force that consumed my energy. When I got fluid in my lungs, I became concerned. In a mid-March phone consultation, my Kaiser doctor in Petaluma diagnosed me as “presumed COVID-19 positive.”

He told me to isolate at home for at least 14 days, and to come to the emergency room or call 911 if I had serious difficulty breathing. I slept in our guest room, wheezing for three nights, asthma inhaler at my side, hoping I wouldn't have to go to a hospital.

Things started to taste strange. My wife bought some cookies, and I told her that they must have changed the recipe or forgotten to add the sugar. I lost my sense of smell for more than a week. A few days later news reports stated that losing smell and taste is a symptom of COVID-19. I made it through the breathing difficulties without hospitalization but was sick for another week, then lethargic for a week after that.

I didn't have the energy to do; I had to just be. For as long as I can remember, I've been focused on doing: Doing my homework, studying to get into a top college, pushing to get ahead in my career. Yet during the past few weeks, I've allowed myself to just be. As a therapist told me years ago: “We're not human doings; we're human beings.”

Getting laid low by illness has been a lesson in allowing myself time to recover, to appreciate life, and to be thankful for my wife who lovingly cared for me. Now that my senses of taste and smell have returned and my energy is back, it feels good to write again, to whack weeds and plant seeds, to scrub the stove until it shines.

But I don't want to forget the lessons of this month of Sundays. It's OK to rest, to take stock, to consider how you want to use your precious time on this earth. To, as Mary Oliver wrote, let the “soft animal of your body love what it loves.”

For the past few weeks, mornings have been divinely quiet. Rather than being desecrated by the sounds of cars and trucks, dawn is enlivened by audible birdsong. As the world exhales, people walk down the middle of the street, greeting neighbors rather than simply passing them.

Small things matter, like shopping for an elderly neighbor who is blind or walking a couple of miles with my wife to see cousins and their kids for a conversation through the window of their home. Or roasting a chicken and delivering it to my octogenarian mother, who had a near-fatal heart attack in February and lives alone in San Francisco. Maybe these aren't small things after all.

One of the silver linings of this frightening time is a heightened awareness of the value of community. As our local businesses have been threatened, my wife and I have bought gift certificates to support indie bookstores, gotten dinner to go from our favorite restaurant (Petaluma's Risibisi) and bought bottles of olive oil from Swayne in Santa Rosa.

For most of my life I've enjoyed sports, cheering our hometown Giants and Warriors, as each team celebrated three championships during the past decade. I haven't missed the games much, but I do miss the companionship of Giants announcers such as Mike Krukow, who feel like old friends migrating into my life every spring. And I miss heading out to the ballpark with friends.

With less time invested in sports, I've read more books, written more in my journal, resumed meditating and watched more movies with my wife. Every day we put our yoga mats in front of our TV and are now 26 days into a 30-part series, “Yoga with Adriene.” At night we watch “The Walking Dead,” which feels simultaneously inappropriate and exquisitely appropriate. No wonder I can't get to sleep until 2 a.m.

For decades, I've co-led whitewater raft trips and kayak journeys. While the intent of these expeditions is to have fun, as a leader my top priorities are to keep everyone safe, healthy and in good spirits. This time is similar. The pandemic has forced us to focus on basics: good food, cleanliness, safety and group dynamics, even if the group is just a couple or a nuclear family. Sheltered at home, I prepare hearty meals in my cast-iron skillet, which recalls cooking under an open sky.

I sense that this month of Sundays will soon come to an end. I'm grateful because it means that fewer people are getting sick. But I already feel nostalgia for this unexpected respite, even though we're still experiencing it.

There's a relatively new word in the English language that means longing for a time through which one never lived - anemoia - but this is different. What I'm feeling is nostalgia for a time that's not yet over, a time through which we're still living, and I know of no word for that.

Maybe we could call it “prestalgia.” This is similar to a sensation I have on a fantastic trip: I start missing Nepal a night or two before flying out of Kathmandu.

Perhaps the closest I can come to describing this is the Welsh word hiraeth, an ineffable yearning. “We're always longing for something, but we're not sure if it's an ideal past or a better future,” the great Welsh author Jan Morris told me during an interview for a magazine assignment. Perhaps it's this “perennial vision of a golden age,” Morris writes in “The Matter of Wales,” “an age at once lost and still to come.”

As sad as this pandemic has been, it contains the seeds of a brighter future, an era when we make more time for one another and our communities, take better care of our home planet, and remember what a gift it is to be able to breathe freely.

A time when we embrace a little bit of Sunday every single day.

Michael Shapiro, a former Press Democrat copy editor, contributes to newspapers and national magazines. He's author of “The Creative Spark,” and lives in Petaluma.

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