Silver Linings

Oregon’s first Covid case anniversary just passed, and I’m tripping over so many “lasts” – the last restaurant, the last concert, the last trip, the last hug from my son. The last time I did something without thought, without worry, and without a mask.

One year, one year, it’s like a drumbeat. But it’s an anniversary that keeps rolling, not just one particular day of disaster, but a year and counting of ongoing disasters.

Times of great change means looking back to ponder – what have I learned, who have I become? It’s too early to write a “best of times and the worst of times” story; history will judge later. But a year ago I jotted down a list of “silver linings” in an effort to get through a quarantine I thought would last just weeks! The year was layered with so much else – politics, protests, natural disasters, personal loss – that I didn’t continue. My spirits rose and fell, I rallied and practiced resilience, and huddled close to home. The silver linings haven’t dulled to a tarnish, but my optimism might now be more reality-based. Here’s how some of them look – the before, and the now.

The Chinese government sent medical supplies, personnel, and experience to Italy and the US. 
Around the world, people took to their porches and balconies to applaud medical staff, to sing, even playing bingo.
Adversity brings out kindness, humor, people sharing resources, words of support, wisdom, entertainment, random acts of kindness.

It would feel foolish now to stand on my porch at 7 pm, banging on a pot, yelling thank you to the unseen helpers, but a year ago those scenes filled my eyes with tears. People still come together though, as we do in emergencies. There have been many heroes and helpers, in healthcare, on the wildfire lines, people reaching out to lonely others, fundraising even when stretched thin. We strain to smile behind our masks. We learned again about the kindness of strangers.

But it’s been a long haul, and the underbelly is there too. There’s burnout, or not enough to go around, and in their frustration some folks just start screaming at each other, butting in line for vaccines, fighting about masks. While countries share resources when there’s plenty, they jockey for position and criticize when there’s not enough vaccines, masks, or respirators.

Thank goodness for humor. We’ve gotten sillier, the humor is darker. The laughter has an edge, but we still look at each other and shrug, knowing we’re just doing the best we can. The comedians truly got me through the last administration.

Sarah Cooper
Sarah Cooper kept me sane.
Moments of joy amidst the anxiety as people reach out electronically. I'm connecting with friends and family more.
Using online tools helps deal with all this.

A pandemic without the internet is hard to imagine. It made the quarantine do-able, bear-able, and survivable. From the safety of our houses we work, go to classes, exercise, order groceries, see our doctors, find entertainment, learn new things, meet like-minded communities, and gather with loved ones. I attended an online wedding, Bat Mitzvah and funeral this year. My daily writing groups started on Zoom long before the pandemic, and became a lifesaver; we hadn’t realized how important our connections would become, or how ubiquitous Zoom would be in our lives. After my mother-in-law died, I was grateful our extended family could gather online to reconnect and share stories.

family zoom
This is longest I’ve gone without seeing my siblings in many years.

But it’s a double-edged sword. Zoom fatigue is real. It has become a verb, a comedy routine, something to tolerate, ignore, and complain about. Computers can’t do everything for us. I often crawl into bed, eyes stinging from the unrelenting glare of the screen. I’ve learned to gaze out the window and watch crows circling, clouds drifting, tracking the growth of the red currant bush just beyond my windowpane. Then back to the checkerboard of faces.

always uplifting window view
The view out my writing window, always a bird or a bud or a memory to be found.

Fortunately, the frantic and continuous communication subsided into something more tolerable. I sink further into the couch cushions or push myself out to the woods or the river where the silent empty world is a stark contrast to the electronic connecting. The deep dive into solitude or creativity makes my shrinking world good enough.

happy river
The river is my happy place
I'm not doing much laundry. Sweatpants are getting a workout though.
Corollary: Alan and I can accidentally dress just alike and no one will see. 

Laundry is an afterthought now that I rarely wear real clothes, preferring what I now call Day Pajamas. I’m sort of embarrassed and sort of happy about this, but always comfortable. Underclothes? Not required. Shaved legs? Meh. I yam what I yam. This might be too much information. I may have also forgotten how to make polite conversation.

You know how old married couples dress alike? That’s us, but only because our color palettes and styles are limited and the same. In the before-times we’d go out and realize with chagrin, oh we’re THAT couple, both in black pants and blue shirts. But now who cares? More than ever, no one.

we dress alike, we brush alike
OK, maybe we’ve ALWAYS dressed alike…. Photo by Mike McAllister
Music videos and live stream shows are sprouting up EVERYWHERE!

I was devastated by the cancellation of all our concert and festival plans, but thrilled with the plethora of online musical gifts: one-offs, concerts, concert series, fundraisers, new collaborations and compositions, home recordings, solo efforts, musical podcasts; often free or with a tip jar, and initially I tuned into them all. Musicians finding their own silver lining has been a huge gift to us as they also figured out how to navigate the new now.

unused tickets
Hope the venues and performers come back!

Now I’m pickier about shows I might have jumped at a year ago. My inbox is full of upcoming performances, instructional videos, and even virtual music camps, and it’s too much. But I joined a fantastic local songwriting class that had moved to Zoom, and Alan found a great accordion class out of New York. This lining is more like GOLD!

I don't have to change my mandolin strings
On the other hand, I have all this time to play music now….

I thought I’d use this time to go deep and learn new skills, but as it turned out, it was time to give my body a break after years of abusive hours-long jam sessions. Songwriting became a satisfying alternative.

As for strings, they go dead. And mandolin strings, eight of them, go dead fast. Notes should ring out rather than sound like a toy xylophone, but I always dread the inevitable drawing blood, breaking strings, or winding them backwards because I’ve forgotten the technique. Playing less often meant I seldom changed my strings. Hallelujah.

But I miss making music with others more than just about anything else, and would happily change my strings just for that.

jamming happy place
Non-stop jams under the redwoods. I miss this the most.
On gas, on dining out. Eating home cooked meals every day.

I was proud of rarely filling my tank even as I chafed at the limitations on moving around. It was a game to see how long I could go between fill-ups, and eased the pain of not going anywhere. 

Even for people who enjoy home cooking, it’s a lot of planning, prepping, shopping, and dishwashing. I miss being served, cleaned up after, and the ambience of elbow to elbow dining in a dimly lit restaurant. So lately we’re getting more takeout, to support local favorites, and get a break. But I don’t like the trash it generates, plus now restaurant food tastes too salty; I never feel fantastic after a restaurant meal (though in the moment it’s ecstasy), and I never feel bad after a home cooked meal.

This list of savings grew over the year: car maintenance, clothes, gym & yoga, haircuts, entertainment, and (sob)… travel.

Skies grew clear as people are using less cars, air travel way down. "Indian residents can now see the towering peaks of the Himalayas from Punjab for the first time in 30 years, after a massive drop in pollution caused by the country's coronavirus lockdown."
Peaks of Himalaya visible from India

Clearer air was an impactful way to really see how our travel modes affect the earth. Here in Portland, traffic dropped steeply after quarantine took place. No more rush hour! I could get to the grandkids in half the time. Now traffic is back up to about 90% of pre-quarantine. I don’t go out often, but I always wonder at all the cars on the road – where is everyone going?

It seems the airlines might bounce back too. Friends report busy airports and full planes, there’s an uptick in reservations, and now, cash from the government. I had to fly for a funeral last summer and the airport was eerily empty. Like sci-fi slasher film empty. Parking was easy, no line at TSA, every other seat empty, and everything on time. If I hadn’t been so anxious it would have been like a dream come true!

empty Portland airport
Unusually empty airport, yikes!

As people compensate for the pent up frustration of staying home, I wonder if any environmental gains will be erased by an uptick in travel. Meanwhile I’m convinced it’s time to replace both our cars for one hybrid, a drop in the bucket of progress.

I bought 2 of my favorite blank books at Powell's Books before they shut their doors.

Ah, my last bookstore visit – I should have stocked up! Now I have fond memories of roaming the stacks, paging through books I’d never heard of, discovering a new author, stopping in the cafe for a cookie and coffee and back out to the stacks fortified, exploring a new undiscovered section of that vast, dusty house of treasures, buying a sweet letterpress card with an imprint of Mt. Hood. Though I didn’t buy nearly enough of my favorite notebooks for the year, I found them online – Decomposition Notebooks, 80 pages, college-ruled, cloth spine. I’ve filled ten since last March, and how many pens? Amazon tells me I’ve gone through 25 Uniball Jetstreams, 0.7mm, black ink.

iconic Portland bookstore
Easy to get lost in Powell’s endless stacks.
The kids don't have to go to school, and I don't have to go to school to see them.

This is the best best best part of the quarantine from my selfish perspective. We get more time with them, they’re not exhausted by their school day (though a tad on edge from all the online instruction). I don’t miss volunteering at school in order to see them. It was interesting but not something I’d choose if they weren’t there.

Opportunities for mass shootings have gone way down, though reports of domestic abuse have risen. Or gone down, which worries officials, as they may be going unreported.

I had to pull back on researching this, not having the stomach for it. There’s no silver lining. Without crowded schools, nightclubs, theaters, shopping centers, or places of worship, I thought fewer targets would stop the spiral. But while mass killings stopped, gun violence rose. Stress and loss are rampant, anger and abuse rising. In my privilege I’m far removed from the nitty gritty of how people live and hurt, so we pick donation targets that help with food scarcity, racial equity, women’s issues (aka people’s issues), and give to politicians who we hope will create change. It’s just not enough.

~~~  ~~~  ~~~  ~~~

Fortunately, silver linings continued to unfold over the year:

  • Quick vaccine development – though we’re waiting to experience their full impact.
  • Have I ever gone an entire year without getting a cold? I sort of got one last week, but was so unfamiliar with the symptoms I didn’t know what it was. Without schools – no flus, no headlice, no tapeworm, no rashes, no pink-eye. “The Portland metro area has seen just three hospitalizations due to influenza this season, according to the Oregon Health Authority.” I heard someone mention with horror the idea of blowing out candles on a birthday cake. Are those days over? Cupcakes for all?
Flu, the last two seasons
Not much flu action this year
  • Finally, after years of fruitless fumbling, we’ve become more efficient shoppers, reducing our trips.
  • I took more notice of the birds, whose population seemed to explode in my silent world. There was also extreme quiet in the woods, the neighborhood, my house. Just stopping and noticing in general was something I hadn’t expected.
  • Watching and helping young grandchildren navigate this strange new reality. Their world is complicated too. They’ve thrived on time with family, and are adept at recovering, over and over, forgiving and moving on. Their resilience galvanizes my own.
ah, the river, digging in
Sometimes coping is a whole body experience
  • The year has been a wake up call for so many things, large and small, personal and global. Learning what I’m made of; deeper thinking about privilege, racism, accountability; valuing connections. But these are topics for another day.
  • I admit I also sank into trashy TV and upped my ice cream intake. C’est la vie.

14 thoughts on “Silver Linings

  1. This is so great. Lovely writing, and inspiring thoughts. Suddenly my pandemic school guide days have an end date, and it’s soon. I’m feeling blue for the first time in all these months. It’s been a gift after all. It’s sometimes hard to see the silver lining until it’s in the rearview mirror. And Sarah Cooper, oh my gawd, she saved the day. Thank you for this account.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Gretchen. I am blue for you. You’ve made a huge difference in those boys’ lives. I’m sure you will find ways to continue your deep connection to them. And yes, funny how so many things we balked at have become gifts. I’m looking forward to seeing how the path ahead unwinds for you.


  2. I have to edit this post in the face of a mass shooting today, because now I’m wondering, as public places reopen and more people are going out, are we going to see an uptick of mass killings? This makes me sick, and I can only hope our new government will see the light and put money into mental health and education, and take guns away from people who shouldn’t have them. I went ahead and looked up the stats and found this:
    “The past year has seen the fewest number of mass shootings in over a decade, according to statistics from the Associated Press/USA Today/Northeastern University Mass Killing Database. Using the long-standing definition of four or more victims killed within a 24-hour time frame, there were 19 mass shootings in 2020, down from 32 the year before. Nearly half of the incidents involved family members. Several others were associated with ongoing criminal activity, such as gang conflict and drug trade. Only two mass shootings were the type that embody the perceptions and fears of Americans — an indiscriminate assault at a concert, restaurant, or other public setting. In this regard, 2020 had the fewest incidents since 2002.”


  3. Nancy, this is so well observed. You’re making me recall many details from this year and how we all thought it would be over in a month or less in the beginning. This line is so true and really resonated with me: A pandemic without the internet is hard to imagine. Indeed it is!
    Thank you, thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. “The deep dive into solitude or creativity makes my shrinking world good enough”  Loved this and we all are the beneficiaries of your remembrances this year. I didn’t begin my “Covid journal” until the 20th last year. It will be interesting to note the changes between then and now, between what was and what is. Onward. Who knew that to be vaccinated would feel like a super-power ?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh Nancy, once again I traveled the reflection road of Covid days and so felt the silver linings expressed with finesse in your blog. I always enjoy your missives et details of observation. What a sheet delight to read end wear like a new pair of glasses refined to see blades of grass and particular pebbles where before were simply solid green et gray palettes.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. You outdid me on the journals–I thought nine was a lot! Of course, I have left blank pages in mine because I pick them up, reread, and continue to write my current thoughts next to those old ones.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. My clothes are not so much Day Pajamas as they are just Full Body Napkins. Wearing Full Body Napkins at this point. As always I treasure your reporting and insights and core experientials. Please god take the guns away. love you xoxo

    Liked by 1 person

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