Gertrude is freaking out. I don’t blame her. She’s an extrovert and now we’ve been ordered to shelter in place for a month. But she’s not making it any easier on herself. The news is on full tilt and she’s watching the stock market plunge. There are track marks on the carpet where she’s been pacing. The fact is that as the days go by, I’m feeling increasingly anxious too. I remind her we have plenty of toilet paper and there’s soup in the cupboard. At least for now.
I’m an introvert, so this crisis we find ourselves in is a bit easier. We introverts crave solitude and quiet. We’re most comfortable at small gatherings and we spend a lot of time in our heads.
Gertrude gives me the evil eye when I suggest meditating. But then she mutes the TV and plops herself down on the couch. Just focus on your breath, I tell her. She lasts five minutes which is a pretty good start. I send her an interview with meditation teacher Tara Brach.
Focus on What You Can Do
I’m trying to acknowledge the reality of the crisis without giving in to panic. With disinfectant in hand, I wipe down the kitchen counters. I put my gym membership on hold. I make a list of all those hunkering down activities I never get to—clearing off my desk, rotating the mattresses, organizing the garage. Writing a blog piece on how introverts rule. There’s some house painting I’ve been avoiding. Yard work. I call my son who helps me figure out how to order food online. My last public outing was to buy a new refrigerator—mine is chirping and heaving and the repairman gave it two months at best, which seems eerily similar to how long I could be cooped up at home. I hope the new refrigerator arrives before there’s a puddle of ice cream on the kitchen floor.
I’m aware that families with children and healthcare workers and emergency personnel and workers in the service industry are experiencing significant stress for who knows how long. Either they risk being exposed to the virus or they’re not getting a paycheck. I’m reminded of how lucky I am. Even my adult children, however inconvenienced, are coping well.
Live in the Moment
I notice that without all the daily errands and distractions, my sense of time is changing. Like an extended vacation, it takes at least a few days to unwind and then time feels expansive, even precious. Gertrude and I take a walk in the rain. We’ve been cooped up inside with drought-defying March rains. We stop along the path to watch how the muddy water swirls and gurgles down the creek. There are two mallards paddling around in a seasonal drainage swale. Both the rain and being outside feel like a miracle. I’m trying not to count the days—either how long it’s been or what the future will bring. Today is today is today.
Penguins and Sheep
Later that afternoon, I come across an app that identifies duplicate photos. I’m elated there’s something else I can add to my list of hunkering down activities. I scroll through travel photos and I’m reminded that Iceland is a whole country of introverts—and sheep, both of whom thrive on the solitude. Penguins in Antarctica, on the other hand, are very social. Despite the cold and isolation, they seem to manage with good humor and curiosity and each other.
Of course, they don’t need toilet paper. And they have an endless supply of frozen food.