By Sister Judith Ann Zielinski, OSF
Some years ago on a vacation in northern Michigan, my sister Karen and I were browsing in a gift shop—the kind that caters to tourists and where one rarely buys anything due to outrageous prices and the internal reality check that kicks in to say “I don’t really need that.” But this time, Karen did buy something. For me.
I had seen a clearance bin of burlap-covered pillows stamped with pithy sayings. One saying leaped out at me: When was the last time you did something for the first time? The pillow made me smile. I picked it up, walked around the shop with it, and finally put it back. However, Karen waited for me to walk out, bought it, and presented it to me as an early birthday gift.
I still have that pillow; it sits on the chair in my office. I love the challenge it always offers—a call to break out of the sameness of everyday thinking and acting to try a fresh approach. It reminds me that there ARE many other ways of responding beyond the patterns with which I am familiar and comfortable; it challenges me to take the time and effort to discover these and try them out.
These months of COVID and forced quarantine have certainly deprived us of personal freedoms and imposed boundaries on what we can and cannot do. It’s now been months of no restaurants, weddings, graduations, baby showers. No nursing-home visits. No travel. No funerals, jubilees, anniversaries, birthday parties. No Masses.
However, we can choose how we see these shifts. COVID times can be “half-empty” or “half-full.” Our patterns of working, praying, resting, recreating, socializing and learning have indeed been changed—but have also made room for possibilities we may have never chosen before. And in those shifts is also the room for “doing something new for the first time.”
I have learned that one of the best ways to cope with our “quarantine losses” is to imagine what we can create in their absence and then ACT on those choices. These don’t have to be large or exotic—in fact, we can make many small twists on our everyday living patterns:
- Cooking or baking recipes from cuisines we’ve never tried before—Indian, Creole, Spanish, Chinese (Chicken Tikka Masala, anyone?);
- Connecting by phone with that long-lost colleague, friend or relative;
- Trying a hobby we’ve never attempted: Cross-stitch? Growing herbs? Watercolor? Adult Coloring?
- Praying in a new (or long-abandoned) style: The Franciscan Crown? Mantras? Mandalas? Centering Prayer?
- Listening to new—or old—music: World rhythms? Rap? Bluegrass? Gregorian chant?
- Writing and illustrating a COVID diary reflecting your thoughts, poems, stories, experiences;
- Choosing a “Heart Question” and sharing honest reflections weekly by phone with a trusted friend;
- Joining an online social experience: a Book Club, a faith-sharing group, a senior support chat;
- Exercising physically however we’re able: walking, stretching, cardio, yoga, chair aerobics;
- Learning: Challenging our mind with online reading or web study– a foreign language, literature, spirituality, cooking, art…
- Watching: Using TV or tablet screen time to explore new programming– foreign films, documentaries, nature series, PBS dramas– beyond what we normally consume.
And on and on. Choosing any/ all of these will not make COVID restrictions painless and pleasant, but the act of creatively choosing how to adapt is in and of itself an act of agency and free will. We DO have a choice as to how we will live through this moment in history. In fact, I believe we can further adapt my pillow verse even more creatively in this time: When was the last time you did something for the first time– wearing a mask?