A quick look at my website tells me that it’s been almost two years since I added a single word to this blog.
Aside from the (very) occasional update to social media, I’ve largely been absent from the internet. There are reasons for this, good ones and many, which will likely come up from time to time in the weeks and months ahead.
For those who have kindly reached out privately to make sure I am still alive, thank you. I very much am. And for those who have wondered if I’m still writing — yes, I also very much am.
But again, we’ll get to that.
Suffice it to say for now that there was some question if Billy Coffey should remain Billy Coffey or perform a bit of literary magic and become someone else, and that at some point in the last two years, the internet became little more to me than just a place where people shouted at each other. Both of those things made me realize that maybe the wisest decision was to take a nice long break and head back out into the real world.
It’s ironic that heading back out into the real world is what ended up bringing me back to my own little corner of the virtual one.
Because it’s crazy out there right now, isn’t it?
One month ago we were all under the impression that our lives were as solid as the world we walked upon. Now we’re coming to understand that was just a story we told ourselves to keep the monsters away. The truth is that life is a fragile thing, much like our happiness, our peace, and our plans for the future. Any one of them can be threatened at any time by any number of things. We’re nowhere near as big and strong as we think. A lot of us are figuring that out right now, myself included.
Like most of you, I’ve spent the last few weeks at home. My wife the elementary school teacher is still teaching, though only to those students blessed with internet access and only from our sofa. Our children are here. I am fortunate enough to continue my day job here here in my upstairs office. We take the dog on long walks and play basketball in the driveway, spend our evenings on the front porch listening to the wind and the birds and our nights watching movies. We’ve fared better than most. The sickness has stayed away from our little town. Though its shadow creeps in everywhere, I’m even more glad than usual to call this sleepy valley my home.
Social distancing, that’s the key.
Keep others safe by keeping yourself safe. Don’t go out unless you have to. That’s life for all of us right now, and it looks like it’s going to stay that way for a while. One day at a time, wash your hands, sneeze into your elbow, wear a mask, call and text the ones you love.
Get by. I keep hearing that from people — we all just need to hang in there right now and get by.
I think there’s a lot of wisdom in that, and for many of us that has to be enough. Let’s face it, hanging in there and getting by is exhausting. Most days feel like we’re all having to swim against a constant current. Victory doesn’t mean progress, it just means holding in place.
That was my thinking up until about two days ago. I figured the best way through this was to keep apart and keep busy, so that’s what I’d been doing. Lots of work. Lots of walks. Lots of writing and reading. Getting by. I thought I was doing everything right.
Then I had to go to the Food Lion in town.
It can be a harrowing experience to go to the store now, and next time I’ll tell you how that trip to get some groceries made me feel a lot better about things. But right now I’ll leave you with what the little old Amish lady in line told the cashier. I couldn’t hear the beginning of their conversation (the rest of us in line were standing six feet apart and looking at each other like we were all infected), but I did catch the end, that warm smile and a gentle voice that said:
“The worst things in the world can never touch the best things in us.
We just have to try and get our eyes off the one and put them on the other.”
Not the first time an Amish lady told me exactly what I needed to hear.
The truth is that I’ve been practicing as much distraction these last few weeks as distance, keeping myself busy so I wouldn’t have to stop for a minute and really think about what all of this is and what it means. I’m not going to beat myself up over that. Sometimes the things that come into our lives feel too big to handle. Too scary to look at. For a lot of us, this time is one of those things. There’s nothing ever wrong in getting by.
But that little Amish lady at the Food Lion stirred something in me that had gone asleep.
I’m tired and stressed and worried and can’t stop washing my hands. But for as much as I just want all of this to be over, I also don’t want it leave me the same as I was a month ago. If we believe that nothing in life is random and everything means something — and I do — then there must be a purpose to all things, even the bad ones. For me, that means wondering what my purpose is in this, and what purpose this has in my own life.
Somewhere along the line, I lost myself. I bet I’m not the only one who can say that.
If that’s you, then maybe we can find ourselves together. Because in the end, that’s how we’ll all get through this.