This weekend the clocks will change, and the evenings will draw in early. The temperatures will continue to drop. It can be a cozy time of the year, but it can also be a season of isolation and longing.
Perhaps that is why our fellow citizens are determined to return to “normal.” Yet even while airports, restaurants and venues for gathering are reporting pre-pandemic crowds, much of our society has been unable to shrug off the deprivation wrought by COVID-19. In the policy world I inhabit, COVID’s impact has been devastating, as vaccines and masks have further divided our already fractured society.
While I am eager, if not desperate, to see accountability and greater stability in our political system, I am less eager to return to the hubbub. I am already missing the periods of reflection that the COVID crisis imposed on me, and many of us “empty nesters” who were told to work from home.
I spent a substantial part of the pandemic in Maine. That state taught me many small things that have grown in my thinking. I learned to take new joy in celebrating the little things, and I learned about the nuance of how to turn what seems to be a problem into a simple pleasure. All that was necessary, I realized, was a different way of looking at what is possible, such as: admiring the wreath on the famous Portland Headlight for all its uncomplicated beauty, appreciating the kindness of neighbors, and finding an unexpected way to enjoy the outdoors.
I have always been a walker and when the snow came in December and January, I was struggling to manage a robust outing on sometimes very icy roads. A local friend suggested I walk on the beach. This seemed counterintuitive to me, but she insisted. “Even if the roads freeze, the beaches never do because of the tides,” she explained. “The ‘warmth’ of the water keeps the beaches clear and delineates a perfect path for walking or running.” I tried it, and in doing so found that the loss of a family holiday did not sting quite so sharply. The peace that came from connecting with the bay and the ocean built in me a kind of resilience and determination each day, ironically turning a seemingly lonely, solitary road into a path of anticipation and empowerment.
As the evenings close in and the holidays are in sight, please remind yourself that not all happiness comes from a crush of people, even if they are loved ones. Being with a friend, or even alone, in a quiet, simple setting—that might include the majesty of any outdoor space— can be self-affirming and offer special meaning that will grow with time.
All the best,
Photos taken by Susan Eisenhower