Image by Daniel Reche from Pixabay
Home is my place of comfort, but during the pandemic, it has also become a place of confinement. I spend most of my days at home, working and not working. Looking around, many people are suffering, but at the same time, many things give me an illusion of normalcy. Students in my classes are expected to attain skills to pass the course. There are people in stores and restaurants. Players without masks are piling on top of each other on football fields.
Meanwhile, I cannot function as usual. Aside from chronic neck and shoulder pain which stopped getting treatment in March of 2020, most of my challenges are psychological. Depression floods the floor like an old boiler. It would be okay for a few days after a repair; then it leaks again. Depression manifests in various forms, and for me, it makes me become small. It gets hard to leave the couch. My eyes get fixated on screens. Hands wouldn’t let go of devices as if they want to get compensated for what they can’t hold any longer: people and animals.
I used to volunteer at animal shelters 2-3 hours a week. I played with cats and took dogs out for walks. During the pandemic, the shelters have limited access to their staff members and a few volunteers. Also, I used to be surrounded by people all the time, at school during the day and then at social activities in the evening. I had lots of physical contact with people: hugging, shaking hands, high-fiving. I also danced with partners and groups: swing, blues, contact improvisation. Now I have one person with me: my partner. “Can you give me a hug?” has become my common request during work breaks.
Since nature is the only space that I have felt completely safe, away from the virus, I spent lots of time last summer and fall hiking and biking. Winter came and lingered, seemingly forever. Then finally, March began. The morning air was still chilly, but the sun was covering it up with the color somewhere between yellow and orange. Come on out, it called me. I put on my hats and gloves and walked to a nearby park. As I made a lap, I realized that what called me out was not the sun; it was four women in my life who go outside in solitudes.
Caroline is a friend I met during the pandemic in a virtual writer’s group. Two days ago, she emailed me her recent blog post. In it, she wrote about her experience of recovering from depression, fears, and anxiety through meditation practice outside:
The more time I spent in the sun the more time I wanted to spend in the sun, I love to listen to the birds and watch the clouds, I noticed the plants and flowers grow and I began to notice the breeze moving over my skin. I managed to stay a little longer, a little longer and slowly, slowly it started to get easier.
My BFF Heena lives alone and works from home. She often gets overwhelmed by her workload. One day she even cried while continuing to work on her computer. One thing she does every day is take walks: 15 minutes during the lunch break and a longer one in the evening. She says, “Rain or snow, I go walk. Nothing can stop me.”
Jessica, my friend and editor, signed up for the “I Have a Dream” 10K challenge in January. Despite inclement weather, fatigue, and grief, she continued to train, gradually increasing her run. On March 3, she completed her 10K in 1 hour and 14 minutes, winning the challenge and the t-shirt. After each run, she posts a selfie, in which she is wearing glasses and a hood with its strings pulled tightly around her beautiful smile. She also participates in fundraising runs for ASL research and awareness in honor of her mother.
My Big Sister Eun-gwi, who I met 20 years ago at a church near my college, teaches English literature and has the busiest life on earth. However, what she does every single day is walk and pray, which she calls her core habits. Even after an exhausting series of classes, she goes on a walk. She then observes the world, takes photos, and shares them with us. Whenever her photo collection of the day comes up on my feed, I pause. I read her reflection and appreciate the pictures: sky in different colors, clouds, trees, plants, and flowers. I take a deep breath as I stand in her shoes where she stops her walk to bring her lens to the wonders she notices.
My childhood dream was saving the world. My mother still says, “You are too smart to teach in classrooms. I wish you worked for the U.N.” That once was my dream, too. But now I know working at the U.N. is not the only way to save the world. Loving myself despite all the toxic self-image I inherited from society and taking care of myself even during a pressuring time can be the first step. Because people can see me like I see my friends. And my doing can inspire others to do the same.
After my solo walk at the park, I started calling my ESL students. I had scheduled to check in with them one by one after the first writing assignment of the semester. One student said at the end of our call: “Thank you for being so patient with the students. You don’t make us feel like idiots.”
My superstars wear sneakers, and so do I.
P.S. Check out my previous letters about experiences with the pandemic: