The Lessons We Learn

Or Choose to Ignore

Photo by Yogendra Singh

A break from someone will either help you realize

how much you truly miss/love them or

how much peace you have without them.

Saw this on Instagram this week

It’s been a year since the start of this pandemic. Hard to believe that much time has passed because to many of us, not much has changed. I say many of us because the majority of people in the world were not personally touched by tragedy. Many died, many got sick, we almost all experienced some sort of lockdown, but many among us were not personally touched by the pandemic . . . and yet.

We want to believe that it’s almost over; there is only so much disruption the average person can tolerate. In truth, COVID-19 will be with us for a long time, perhaps permanently. Over the last few months I have heard many intelligent, resourceful, optimistic people, talk about the upside of this pandemic. For many, the upside has been a discovery of who we are, what we can endure, and what we ultimately want out of our lives. A lot of this is me convincing myself that everything will be okay.

My education, training, and Ph.D. are in higher education, therefore, I am ill equipped to speculate on how this virus will impact our psychological well-being. As usual, I will write from my own experience and observations. What I propose is not science or gospel, it is one individual’s point of view. A point of view I am certain is shared by many and can be seen as a way of understanding why some of us do what we do or say what we say.

The Lessons I have Learned

One of the big life lessons for me is how much joy that I get from going to the gym five or six days a week. Aside from the use of machines to stay in somewhat decent shape, I do a great deal of socializing at the gym. I get there early, very early, and spend about an hour and 15 minutes catching up with gym friends and doing a semi-rigorous workout; convincing myself that because I do this, I can eat anything I want. This has been a steady practice for the last 40 years and until now, I have never missed more than a week at the gym in any given year; I even book hotels with gyms so that I can workout when on vacation. The lesson is, I need to be motivated by others in order to work harder, and two, the routine keeps me on track for the remainder of the day. No doubt I am much more productive after a workout.

I now know that going to bed at the same time everyday and waking up at the same time every morning, helps me to be and feel completely rested throughout the day. When I’m not in lockdown and I go to bed later, I still wake-up early, making me feel sluggish the entire day.

I have rediscovered the joy of cooking. I’m more creative in the kitchen than I have have ever been and I now have a large selection of recipes filed away in my head. The knowledge that things I might have been passionate about in the past can be revived, is the lesson for me. I have been doing a mental sweep of past activities or habits that have fallen to the wayside; several of the positive habits of my youth are worth revisiting (e.g., spending a good deal of time in nature, exploring music).

What I Have Heard From Others

  • Being home with my partner 24/7 forced me to communicate with him or her and truly get to know them. Well, you know which way that one might go.
  • I started out on my sofa in the morning, and ended up there at night.
  • I never realized how disconnected I was with my children. Time with them has been a rediscovery and gift.
  • I need structure in my life, otherwise I do nothing.
  • I never thought I had it in me to do ____________________.
  • I never realized how much I enjoy my own company.
  • I have finally learned to balance work and leisure time.
  • I didn’t have to do as much laundry while in lockdown.
  • We didn’t have much to say to one another after a while.
  • He got on my nerves.
  • I fell back in love with him.
  • I kept worrying that one of us were going to get the virus.
  • We never ran out of toilet paper.

Human beings are super resilient. Faced with adversity we find ways to make change, improvements, and get on with life. This pandemic has forced people to consider new careers and work in ways they never imagined they would or could. Sitting down and taking inventory of what lessons have presented themselves to us is important. Don’t just assume you will realize what you’ve been taught or what you have taken for granted. Pat yourself on the back for what you have accomplished and make that a habit, in time, you’ll rely on others less for motivation. Internal encouragement and cheerleading is healthy and will lead to success. It will also lead to your encouragement of others — something we do not do nearly enough. I think this is one of the reasons so many seek “likes” on social media.

The Lessons We Refuse to Learn

What has amazed me throughout this pandemic, is the number of people who refuse to a wear mask or who continue to gather in close spaces with large numbers of people. I’ve seen some of this in my own family and I find it baffling. When you consider the number of people who have lost their lives, the enormous amount of people who became seriously ill, and the impact closing the economy on the world has had on billions of people, many, refuse to believe the pandemic should be taken seriously. Refusing to comply with mandates is madness and a selfish act of defiance. Again, I rely on karma in place of revenge. Yes, I’m slightly pissed off.

Some of us have used this past year as an excuse to overindulge and become complacent; rationalizing the pandemic as a pass for sluggish behavior (who’s watching anyway). It’s not too late to get out of bed and start something new; something that might someday have you saying:

The pandemic was the start of me realizing my potential and fulfilling my dreams.

Travel

Cancelled Cuba which was scheduled for April 22. The government wanted to hole me up in my hotel room for a few days and bring me food. I’d be watching god knows what on TV waiting for COVID test results. Not going to happen. Rescheduled to February 2022. The good news (I think) is that I’m headed to São Miguel in the Azores instead. I’ve already book tours to the volcanos, falls and gin tasting. I’ll be writing about it for sure.

United Airlines wanted to re-book me from Lisbon to Newark on my seven hour flight, headed home in May. Their proposal: go through two countries in the wrong direction and get me to the States 29 hours later. I should note that this is without apology. Not going to happen. Booked Delta on a direct flight and crossing my fingers.

Toulouse, France in June: flight cancelled for the fourth time. This time I put it off until April 2022 (just around the corner).

I have tickets on EasyJet for Lyon, France in June; I’m waiting for that cancellation. They have already changed one of the legs of my journey. See a pattern here?

Bristol, UK in July. I’m thinking this will happen, it’s been postponed three times.

No sign of a vaccine for me here in Portugal, they’re very slow in getting this done. I’ll be getting lots of COVID-19 tests done for travel. It does feel a bit like things are changing for the good. There’s that optimist.

I’ve Been a Bad Boy

This week I started a big fight on Facebook around the issue of dog poop in Portugal. I have to say it was fun to watch it play out. People get really passionate around any attack on culture. I had to unfriend a couple of crazies. Root canal this week as well; a tooth infection could take you down a dark path. My dentist insisted it was a receding gum issue — doctors could do a better job listening to their patients.

Resources:

COVID: The Lessons I Learned From Lockdowns in 2020, BBC News, January 5, 2021

Five Lessons We Have Learned From Lockdown, Pro Group, Tom Eagle

Question of the Week:

Name something you learned about yourself during this pandemic?

Surviving Another Lockdown

Can it be too quiet?

[If you’re too busy to read, scroll to the end; I need your help with answers to weekly questions.]

The Current State of Affairs

A friend of mine who happens to be alone a lot because of his work, had this to say about quarantine:

“I’ve been practicing how to isolate my entire life.”

I can relate to that. I’ve been living alone for eight years now and it’s been pretty quiet and more peaceful than I ever imagined. So much so that I cannot imagine it any other way. Still, it’s different when you choose to be alone versus having the government enforce it. And for you partnered folks: if living with someone works for you, I wouldn’t want you to change it; just presenting alternatives.

I guess there was always the possibility that the government in Portugal would decide a second lockdown was necessary. I saw it happening in other European countries and it was only a matter of time. So here we are again: big infection rates and more deaths than we can handle. And as you’ve heard, a slowdown in vaccine production and delivery.

Intellectually, I get it. I’m constantly imagining what it must be like for people losing family members and close friends. And believe me the last thing I want is to be in hospital in a foreign country hooked up to a respirator. I’m living in Portugal where I have new friends who care about me, but who wouldn’t be able to see me in hospital anyway. And then of course there is my dog Paco; it’s been just the two of us for a year now. I’m convinced that without Paco, I would be a slug with a big bag of chips, on a too cushy sofa, rewatching Netflix originals and endlessly surfing Youtube videos.

The Right Head Space

Attitude is a huge part of a successful lockdown. If you spend a lot of time thinking about what you cannot do and where you cannot go, you will become bitter and filled with anxiety. On the other hand, if you remind yourself that lives are being saved by staying put and it’s temporary, coping becomes easier (at least for me).

I also purchased a tiny little fireplace for 30 Euros on Amazon. It runs on ethanol and it’s very safe. So when I’m wrapped up in a quilt with Paco curled up next to me, I now have a fire to add to the peaceful ambiance. Make your space comfy and cozy so that you never want to leave.

Routine

I’m finding that routine helps me feel better about the situation I find myself in. I go to bed at the same time, wake up at the same time, spend time journaling and blogging in the morning, take Paco to the dog park (where I can also socialize from a distance), do some stretching and walking, learning Portuguese on Memrise, cleaning up a bit, cooking new dishes, going to the market (allowed), reading, watching a bit of news (not too much, I find it depressing and the media sensationalizes everything), Facetime or whatsapp family and friends, etc. If I do all of these things, just about everyday, time breezes by and I feel fulfilled. I have also discovered the art of napping. Closing your eyes for 10 to 20 minutes in the middle of the day, can be quite rejuvenating and there’s no guilt attached.

Newish Hobbies

I’ve always been at a loss for dreaming up new and interesting hobbies. Like most people, I’ll try something a couple of times and put it down. Pre-COVID-19 I discovered that I enjoyed croquet; bought an expensive new mallet and everything. Now I hang my jacket on it. The point is, I found a passtime I enjoyed and now I know that I can do it again . . . hopefully in the near future.

Lockdown has forced me to cook more and that’s a good thing. I’m enjoying watching Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson on Portugal’s mixed Portuguese and English food channel, 24Kitchen. Not just for enjoyment (most of the Food Network these days), these are shows where you can watch, listen and learn. I’m having fun duplicating recipes with my own twist. I don’t write them down, I wait a day or two, let it churn in my head a bit, and then give it a try. I’ve come up with quite a few very satisfying meals. I’m not photographing most of them — something I’ve discovered about social media: most people couldn’t care less what I cook.

I’m occasionally enjoying a virtual meal with my friend Gina. It’s not the same as sitting across from her, but it’s fun for the two of us to plan a menu, pull up a laptop, and chow down together.

The Quiet

There is a high school with hundreds of students very close to my apartment. Students hangout at a café at the base of my building, pretty much all day. A few weeks ago the government decided that all of Portugal should stay at home except teachers and school kids. So for the first few days, when the second lockdown began, I continued to hear the chatter of high schoolers from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Admittedly, I resented it. Even the owner of the café was concerned about the pile-up of young people on the sidewalk. They were maskless and all over one another (well that’s what you do when you think you’ll live forever). I guess their infection rates went up and the kids are back home. I miss the chatter. It was a reminder that there is life out there in the world. Quiet is grossly overrated.

My Perspective

It helps to have a place to breathe. The view of the Ria Formosa and Atlantic Ocean from my terrace never gets old. Some days the temperature goes up to 70 degrees (21C) or higher. If you’re going to have to stay home, the Algarve isn’t a bad place to be.

I’m legally permitted to exercise close to home. Long walks with earbuds and music was no longer satisfying, so I have started listening to podcasts. Wow, if you want to pass time and be stimulated while you’re doing it, this is the way to go. You have to sort through the bed stuff to get to the good ones, but once you find a few you like . . . it’s like my outdoor Netflix and they’re free on Spotify (with occasional ads). Modern Love, The Counter Chronicles, The Daily, The Daily Zeitgeist — all very interesting. Short spurts of listening are not a problem. Audio books next?

Eat. Sleep. Isolate. Repeat.: Funny Self Isolation Notebook Journal.  Quarantine Humor for Coworkers and Friends. Social Distancing Sarcastic  Quotes.: Press, Twisted Journaling: 9798639563256: Amazon.com: Books

Question of the Week:

How has lockdown changed the way you think about life?