A shutdown of nonessential goods and services.  It feels like I’m in a months-long time-out.  Grounded, barred from the things I used to enjoy.

For those of us who are empty nesters, this concept is somewhat a distant memory of a type of punishment that removes the things our misbehaving children enjoy the most as a disincentive to future transgressions.  Food, shelter, and the outdoors were made available, but cars, electronics, and ability to see friends, are taken away.

We are trying to teach our children that good behavior is rewarded with privileges and bad behavior is met with uncomfortable consequences.  The analogy to the quarantine has its limitations since as parents we would never have wished sickness or death on our children for any reason.

Limitations aside, COVID-19 seems to be providing what feels like time-out disciplinary action from Mother Earth to her children, the human species.  The other creatures on Earth are going out to play more than ever while we’re grounded, but we get to enjoy their play vicariously.

As parents we don’t punish our children this way to be vindictive or cruel.  We do it for the sake of their learning and to limit the harmful or destructive behavior.  If we’re driving under the influence as a minor, being grounded means that we cannot harm ourselves or our community with our reckless behavior.  We lose our privileges, because by definition, they are only given to us while we demonstrate that we are deserving and responsible. 

Being in a quarantine time-out also helps us to reflect on our behavior and choices, and how we can be more of an asset to ourselves, our families, and communities.  Are we deserving?  Are we responsible? What have we all learned, individually and collectively, during our time-out?

Here are some of my lessons.  What are yours?

  • I have found even better replacements for all the stuff I thought I needed.  I doubt I will go back to feeling like I need that stuff as much as I once did going forward, even after restrictions are lifted.
  • I value the people around me in a more visceral and tangible way than I ever have before.  I used to take for granted being able to be in close proximity to people or even to just give a hug to a loved one.   I will not take people for granted in that way again.
  • So much of our economy and wellbeing is built upon nonessential goods and services.  The many hardworking people that are providing essential goods and services are poorly paid and cared for. They’re putting their lives at risk so we can have what we need.  What is wrong with this picture?  How do we fix it?  Hopefully we will prioritize who and what is most essential going forward, and reward them accordingly.
  • I’ve had to deepen my relationship with nature to compensate for the other ways I have entertained and comforted myself.  Nature provides the best of my entertainment and comfort now, and she’s always there.  She’s affordable, she’s everywhere, she’s inspirational, and her comfort is vast and wide.  I cannot go backwards with regard to my relationship with Earth for I feel my debt and gratitude to her is more real than ever.
  • Nature is resilient, for she’s bouncing back so quickly and vigorously.  It gives me hope that we can now create healthier, and new normal ways of consumption, waste, and environmental care, taking a huge step forward towards a climate change solution.  I’ve created new normals that provides better care for both Earth and me:  I will want to keep cooking and gardening when this is all over since they are things I should’ve been doing all along.
  • We are all interdependent and interconnected in terms of our health and wellbeing.  If I had any illusions that I was an island and I can survive on my own, any remnants of these illusions are gone.  I hope I can learn to garden enough that I can provide more of my own food, but I still need running water and electricity, and God forbid I run out of flour, cooking oil, salt and pepper, toilet paper, electronic books, or Netlix!  These things can only be provided by other people.  Also, COVID knows no boundaries in terms of nationality, socio-economic status, or any other social identities such as race or religion.  We will sink or swim together; it’s glaringly evident.

Let us resolve together that our new, healthier habits that provide better care for ourselves, each other, and Earth be maintained and strengthened going forward even as restrictions are lifted.  By acting in a more responsible manner, maybe we can avoid another time-out and even earn better privileges going forward.

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