Imagine a world where you could see your family without thinking. Imagine being able to sit in a restaurant or drink in a bar; to share a coffee indoors with the stranger from Tinder, to let your traveling friends sleep on your couch. Imagine starting a Friday without plans and ending it with your living room full of people, sharing stories and food and time. Imagine hugging each friend as they left for the night, giving the humanness of touch to the people you care about. Imagine flying to the other side of the world in a few hours, just to see another city and touch another sky. Imagine leaving the airport free at heart, ready to bathe in foreign waters and words.
It sounds utopian, doesn’t it? If we could have this now, we would be manic with joy.
But this is the world we already had.
It was only one year ago that we lived in this utopia.
And it didn’t feel utopian, did it? We were worried about climate change and politics and all the little struggles and sorrows of normal life. It didn’t seem precious that we could mingle without weighing the risks and ethics of every meeting. It wasn’t extraordinary that for most of us, science had beaten disease so completely it was rarely even a thought. We weren’t grateful to live in the only century ever where germs had been conquered. We didn’t appreciate that it was rare for parents to hug a cold, stiff child one last time. We had so many blessings we never noticed, so much to be grateful for that we never thought of.
What else is good in our lives right now? Do we have food? Are we confident we’ll eat tomorrow, too? Is that such a given that we don’t even think about it, like the fact the sun will rise in the East? Are our families okay? Have they been spared by the skills to work remotely, or the wealth to be retired? Are we healthy enough that we’re not worried about dying of Covid 19 ourselves?
Today I’m spending Christmas alone. I’ll be talking to screens, bonding with whatever version of a person can be shown on a wall of pixels.
But I’m happier than I was a year ago.
I’ve started meditating, and it’s helped my brain notice what is good in my life.
I’m warm. I’m safe. I’m dry. I have the dignity of a job, and the safety of one I can do from a screen. I have a family who loves me. I get to see their faces, even if it there’s a computer between us when we talk.
I’m lucky that my parents chose to have children. Their lives would have been easier without me. They could have slept better and traveled more; they could have pursued their hobbies or saved money and retired young. Instead they chose to bring a crying, pooping creature into their lives and nurture it into an adult.
I’m lucky I was the child my parents ended up with. What were the odds of that sperm meeting that egg? I don’t know the number, but it’s something even a mathematician can’t really imagine. Out of a trillion, trillion, trillion ways of combining my parent’s DNA, I was the person who won the lottery to exist.
I’m lucky that of all the ways to be conscious, I get to experience life as a middle-class human, in this century, in this part of the world. Since the dawn of life on Earth, creatures have struggled and suffered just to endure. Countless animals have died in slow agony because they couldn’t find enough food. Countless people have starved since our species emerged on the evolutionary stage. Science only started to beat scarcity in the last couple centuries. Before that, it was common to die of hunger. In some places it still is.
For me, there’s buildings with food from around the world. If I swipe a piece of plastic or give some paper, I can take this food. I have to work for that paper, but this involves pressing buttons and saying words. A peasant farmer wouldn’t consider that working for food, and they’d be right.
I’ve started making an effort to present when I eat. I’ll lay out my meal and pause, grateful for what I’m about to experience. Then I’ll eat with my phone off and my laptop away, just enjoying the tastes and smells, and the words of my roommates if they’re around. It’s made food taste better. It’s even made my eating healthier—and not as a sacrifice, a decision to give up taste for the sake of longevity and health. It’s more that paying attention this way actually changed what I liked to eat.
Every night before bed, I take a couple minutes to remember what I’m grateful for. Every morning before starting the day, I do the same. It’s training my brain to notice what is good in my life, and it’s working. On paper, my circumstances were much better a year ago. In my heart, I’m happier now.
This isn’t the year I would have chosen—but I’ve been learning to make the best of it. I’ve done more writing than I’d ever imagined. I’ve learned to eat salads. I’ve discovered meditation—and that will help me even when the pandemic is over. I’ll be more grateful for the hugs of friends. I’ll be more present for the kisses of lovers. I’ll be more open in the countries I visit, more willing to trust my heart and take my chances. I’ll be better at getting my writing done, and I’ll be easier on myself when I don’t.
For now, I’m going to shut my computer and run in the rain, happy for what I have. To everyone reading this, merry Christmas, and good luck with this year. At least partly, it can be whatever you make of it ????