Deep in the cranial recesses lies a list of ancient aphorisms and maxims that sometimes emerge, unbidden, to remind me of some general or elemental truth. Such was the case recently.
What came to mind was the saying, “It’s an ill wind that blows no one any good.” It occurred to me that, even in these Pandemic Times (has anyone yet copyrighted this title for a news website?), there is truth in those words. The virusy ill winds have unexpectedly been kind to me. And, from conversations I have had with others, I think that many Vermonters have also found surprising silver linings in this unprecedented and stressful time.
My silver lining is that when my daughter Esther lost her job in San Diego, facing a pandemic shutdown and end of her condo lease, she sprinted back home across America with her two roommates: three people, three cars, three cats. In four days, three young Vermonters were back in the state, a trend many of her young friends from Vermont have since joined.
For her, this was a mind-bending shift from extended Western explorations to unsettled Green Mountain comfort. But for me, well, it was the beginning of “Home Makeover: Pandemic Edition,” in which a 26-year-old filled with restless energy and uncertainty found an ever-unfinished 1830s farmhouse the perfect antidote for time-on-one’s-hands syndrome. Not to mention, she needed, shall we say, a level of neatness and decluttering that was at odds with my routine way of living.
The result was that by mutual agreement (OK, I might have dragged my feet a bit), we invited Marie Kondo to cast her eye on just about every room in the house, virtually as it were, and boy, she is harsh and judgmental.
What, you don’t think I need tax returns from 1997? Nor any of those articles in those dusty piles of magazines in the dusty closets? You really think I should get rid of those (glasses, plates, pots, five-year-old bottles of condiments) in the kitchen? Ditto stuff in the bathroom (except maybe 10 years old). Turns out I didn’t really need three containers of baby powder or 15 small bottles of hotel-provided hand lotion and shampoo, or inhalers prescribed back when Esther was in high school.
Much to my surprise, it turns out Marie is as infectious as COVID-19, and while there were some feverish moments, I found I relished the clean sweep that blew through my house. It helps that Kondo was channeled by a daughter with a good sense of humor to go with the energy, and that I accepted going gratefully with the flow, because that meant getting a lot of things done.
Suddenly, the basement door I never installed—for decades a shabby curtain covered what a friend called “the gaping maw” down the stairs—is now hung. That dark red paint I bought a year ago to liven up the living room? It looks great, and Esther did the painting.
The trade-off was that we rescued a full-sized bed frame (artisanal, gluten-free, hand-hewn from my own ash trees, with mortised and tenoned posts) that had been semi-finished and cluttering up the basement for years. I finished it, and she is now happily sleeping on it (after also repainting her old room). As a plus, I can now move through the basement without weaving around the frame.
And we’re not done yet. New motto: At my age, don’t waste any mojo that comes your way!
Many of us appear to have put our new “spare” time to good use: in our houses, in our gardens, as volunteers, and in learning new skills or relearning old ones, such as playing an instrument or sewing masks. In a bit of irony, the pandemic’s quarantine and self-isolation, mixed with pent-up energy, has spurred a beneficial inward focus on things we CAN do.
We are, of course, already beneficiaries of silver linings given that we live in a rural state with lots of open spaces that allow us to get out in nature and safely exercise or de-stress. My idea of hell: being cooped up in a tiny NYC apartment for months or living in dark air-conditioned confines in steamy Florida. Here, Vermonters reclaimed their gravel backroads as the perfect pandemic panacea, finding in a stroll or run outdoors the relief valve for stress and psyches so many others have no access to. And we may all be healthier for it, despite a pandemic.