I was just watching Goodfellas with my son and husband. Then when it was over, I went upstairs to wash my face.
It occurred to me that unless we see this pandemic crisis as a life-altering moment, all is lost.
What matters is that we change. If we don’t change, the same things will continue to recur. We will go back to being unwell.
My parents were both addicts. My father to his pride and my mother to her escapes.
They did not change. They faced numerous crises. Nothing changed.
I have relatives and friends, who think that things should be different — but by the hand of others — when this is all over.
Nothing will change with us unless we change.
I do not need the J.Crew sweaters. I do not need the Coach leather. I never did.
My mother had literally 120 vintage Coach leather purses, handbags, and briefcases when I gutted their house last year. Most of them never saw the light of day and they were scooped up for pennies on the dollar at an estate sale.
I do not need the cheap crap made in China. I do not need the cheap crap made anywhere. I have enough cheap crap. Do you need your cheap crap? Really need it?
Yesterday, I colored sections of my hair blue. I decided I was bored. That I needed a change and what the hell did it matter anyway — even if I had to go in for a job interview, it wouldn’t happen for the next six weeks at the earliest anyway. I wanted to live a little of the childhood I didn’t get to live.
As a child, I was the grown up. I had to take care of my mother. I had to pack for my father to leave for his big job and I made arrangements with him and his secretary to pay the bills because my mother was emotionally and tactically unavailable. I’d ride my bike up to the bank around the corner with signed checks and the utility bills in my messenger bag.
I’d get off my bike, park it outside the branch office and walk in with all the papers I’d need — the statement , the check, the proof of residency — to make sure our power, or our water, or our phone, or our heat wasn’t cut off. I would face the teller behind the 1” of bullet-proof glass and slide my papers into to welled tray at her window. She would take the papers, verify the funds, use her rubber stamp here and there, sign or initial various papers with her teller number and then slide them back to me under the glass. I’d ride back home and call the utilities with the verifying information and hope we were safe for that month.
After a while, I realized that I needed a system. The haphazard approach was not efficient or emotionally stabilizing. Sometimes it didn’t work, sometimes I was late with the payment. So I devised a plan. After talking with my father, we had agreed that a consistent time each month would be best.
I had created a standing appointment: the 24th of each month or the Friday closest to that date. In the morning, I’d quietly go to my father at his bedside and ask him to sign the checks I’d made out to whomever was due the payment. I was 14. This went on for years. Sometimes I’d make the deadline, sometimes I wouldn’t. The reactivation fees for the service we’d exploited was often 1/3 the cost of the monthly fee and my father greatly resented having to give them more of his money to get back what we had before. Sometimes a few days would go by.
But he knew he had to pay it. He was a father. So he’d pay the reinstatement fee. We’d pay the overage for them to simply flip a switch and turn things back on. Even though I know now I wasn’t responsible for any of this, I felt I was. If we missed the deadline, it was my fault. If we went without water service, it was my fault. If we went without power, it was my fault. No one ever said that it was or it wasn’t my fault, but I knew that if I’d only gotten things arranged sooner or earlier, than it wouldn’t be my fault.
This went on for years, well beyond the time I thought it would transition back to being his responsibility. And it wasn’t an issue of not having the money. It was that he lacked the executive functioning skills to properly deal with it or simply chose to abdicate onto a child. After all, it’s so much easier to not deal with bills… At the time I felt it was an honor to serve the family this way. I felt as though I was like a partner.
I realized many years later that I was only band-aiding the situation. My father and mother were not going to change unless something catastrophic happened to them. In time I came to realize that their catastrophes could be out-catastrophed and nothing ever changed. They continued to calcify and corrode their relationship and our wellbeing.
There was never enough gravitas in any situation to get them to change.
So, as an adult, with my parents long gone, I see clearly now, that COVID19 makes me feel like I’m 14 all over again. Except it’s everyone who has something to lose now.
If we don’t change, this will happen again. We will be confronted with huge choices.
Can we stop our compulsive and mindless behavior?
Can we sit with “now”?
Can we be OK with not being OK? Can we pause? Can we decide we don’t need it?
Do we need the vacations on the massive cruise liners? I know a friend who booked a cruise on a smaller vessel that is environmentally aware and doesn’t dump its garbage into the sea.
Do we need the waste and soulless existence in empty experiences? I get the need for a break and a shift in perspective but we can do more. We can grow.
What are we running from?
Can we confront it? (I assure you it’s not that scary.)
About mindless consumption: This isn’t a matter of choosing the better brand. It’s a matter of looking in our closets and realizing we have enough. It’s a matter of looking inside our medicine cabinets and knowing we don’t need another kind of lotion or to try another anti-aging cream or yet another fabulous mascara. We are enough.
Eventually we will die. The crap we will leave behind is overwhelming to consider. I had to sell my parents’ homes and one of them — oh my lord! — was a museum to a sea of unused anything, unopened that, collections of this and waste.
Would any of us look at the person who may be on a ventilator in an ICU and say to them, “You really should have done that addition to the house”? Does it take people dying to realize that none of what we fret over doesn’t matter and that everything we avoid does matter?
Who will we be when we come out of this experience?
Let’s live responsibly and with presence. What are we so afraid of? Share love. Share compassion. Unload your burdens. Create space in your heart. Let shit go.
Thanks for reading.