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Pandemic Pleasures? A Thanksgiving Virus Diary

On a rainy day, I sit in my home office with the windows open and a candle lit as my workday hums along.  In my “real” office, the windows don’t open, and I’ve never thought of lighting a candle. Here at home, I make a cappuccino for my 8th grader every morning as a special treat. I eat lunch with my husband. Without any choices to make — we don’t have to agree on a time and place to meet for a special workday lunch together. There’s more time to read and write. These are pandemic pleasures and there are more.

Every Sunday, the New York Times “At Home” section features five new recipes to try. Since March, I’ve added to a growing stack I think will appeal to my crew. My husband knows every trail, well- traveled or super-secret, in this town. We walk our dog in the woods accompanied by moonlight and owl song. Here at home, we have winter gatherings on our screened porch, heater and blankets at the ready. This Thanksgiving, without our extended circle, we are free to choose our own menu, nothing made because we’re supposed to meet others’ expectations. 

But as grateful as I am for the gifts this pandemic has strangely given, gloom and melancholy are ever-present specters that I don’t know whether to run from or embrace. As a country, we are closer, but still so far away from anything that we used to think of as normal. Yesterday there was reporting that the first vaccines would be given in mid-December. Does this mean we can plan a trip for the summer? Maybe a big party in the spring? How I wish…The road to normal is a difficult one and it will be littered with grief. The temptation, so strong right now, to gather around holiday tables will sicken so many. Others will get lucky and return to daily life unscathed. Still others will die.  

To be thankful in all things, as the Psalmist writes, is a mantra I try to live by, something I have said to my sons over and over throughout this time when they have become discouraged. The temptation to either/or thinking is strong. If I am thankful and have found some new pleasures during this time, does that make me toxically positive? What does it mean to be grateful for aspects of my own life when I know so many are suffering? When I don’t feel grateful, when I lapse into self-pity, impatience, and frustration, can I accept that in myself without judgement? Can I accept it in others? Can I leave off planning for a little while longer and find what pleasures I can in this pandemic cocoon? Sometimes, I’m just not sure. 

There is an author I like who sends quotes to my inbox most days. Sometimes when things are busy, I skip right over them and delete the message without a second thought. But today I opened it and found this:

“This is the day which the Lord has made,” says Psalm 118. “Let us rejoice and be glad in it” (v. 24). Or weep and be sad in it for that matter. The point is to see it for what it is, because it will be gone before you know it. If you waste it, it is your life that you’re wasting. If you look the other way, it may be the moment you’ve been waiting for always that you’re missing. All other days have either disappeared into darkness and oblivion or not yet emerged from it. Today is the only day there is.  

(Frederick Buechner, Whistling in the Dark)

Perhaps this is the best I can aspire to, greeting the specters of gloom and melancholy not so much with disappointment, but with acceptance. It’s hard to be away from those we love at the holidays. It’s hard to continue to live in uncertainty. But it is really the only choice. Try the new recipe. Read the new novel. Watch the long-awaited TV series. Walk the dog under the crescent moon. Do my work. Bundle up and see friends in small doses. It is enough for now. 

Photo Credit: Skylar Searing (Follow him on Instagram @raelyks)

By Mimi Chapman: Writing about the intersection of personal and professional life

Professor, School of Social Work, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I started this blog because I enjoy reflecting on different parts of life and work and sharing that with others.

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