By Heather Rolph | Photo by Patil Khakhamian
Some morning early in the summer, after the coronavirus had changed all our lives, I stumbled downstairs to eat breakfast and found The Seattle Times spread out on the kitchen counter. I had required reading, my mother told me, opening the paper to the Opinion section and pointing out several articles.
One of these was by Timothy Egan, a well-known Northwest author, and as I read his article it finally put words to what I’d been thinking for weeks.
“During the lockdown of 2020, our nest has been a quarantined family of six … It’s been exhausting, kinetic, cramped and one of the few consistent joys in this awful time,” Egan wrote in the article, titled “My quarantine house holds three generations.”
“Our newly crowded house, like that of so many others, came together very quickly … And then they left, a week or so ago, moving 1,000 miles away to a different time zone. We lost an intimacy that most of the world had known since people formed family units. Our house is still and aimless, three generations back to one, and we are left to wonder how so many of us can live like this,” the article concluded.
Home only for the weekend on a visit, with the family dog running through the yard and my mother sitting next to me at the kitchen counter, I understood exactly what Egan meant, and what — for some of us, in some small ways — the pandemic has allowed us to gain back.
Nothing in the past half-year has gone the way we thought it would. I thought the year would finish in a whirlwind of classes and block break trips, part-time jobs and packing up. I thought I would have time to say goodbye to friends who have now graduated. I thought I would see friends again this year who have now abruptly transferred. I thought I would be able to make concrete plans to see everyone who matters to me again.
But of course, it didn’t work out that way. Instead I spent the spring adjusting to living in my parent’s house again, learning German online, walking in the woods with high school friends, and obsessing over growing squash.
I am not good with change and it is not what I expected, but even so this has in many ways been much better than the summer I lost. I was home for my brother’s 18th birthday, and I can be home for my mother’s 50something. I live in a cabin in rural eastern Washington, a reasonable drive from home, and collect carnivore scat in the mountains. I will be around to harvest my squash, and dry slices of apples and plums and pears, and watch the maple leaves fall during my first Northwest autumn since I left for college.
In some strange ways, this pandemic has cured years of buried homesickness. In some strange ways, it has finally made me ready to grow up.
Of course, I’ve had it ridiculously easy. There are too many people right now who have lost loved ones, lost jobs, lost hope for the future. There are too many parents without childcare, families without money, vulnerable individuals without any ability to live a normal life until this pandemic is over. There are too many people who don’t know when they’ll be able to see their family again.
But for a surprising number of people I’ve talked with over the past months, this pandemic has some unexpected good parts. Like any crisis, it forces all of us to ask ourselves what really matters in our lives. And because of that, I know people who have found a dream job, moved closer to the people who matter to them, strengthened friendships even when everything is virtual. My father lost his daily commute and works from home for the foreseeable future, and for the first time in years he can be a fully present parent in my life.
We all want this pandemic to end. We are all constantly reminded that nothing will be normal again for possibly a very long time. And that is awful — but within the awfulness, let’s take the time to appreciate some of the good things that we still have, and the good things that have come from this. Let’s figure out what truly matters to us, and nurture it, and keep it once things do eventually return to normal.