Double Contraction

life is a tight squeeze these days

I’ve written before about being unemployed, and about the emotional and mental roadblocks arising from that situation.  I’ve been living it for almost a year now.  Social Security benefits have not yet kicked in, so I’m in a state of limbo for the time being.  I spent more than seven months agonizing over efforts to land another job, because I felt I should be productive; it wasn’t yet time, I thought, to throw in the employment towel.  In the meantime, my daily life had narrowed in focus to my couch and laptop, so as to always be wired in, should an opportunity come along.  Until needed eye surgery can be scheduled, I haven’t wanted to drive anywhere, and besides, even if I enjoyed window-shopping and solo matinees, I’ve been conserving money as much as possible. 

Unemployment constricted my life, then the coronavirus came along.  Suddenly, millions of people were in the same boat:  jobless and stuck at home.  They began living with the same anxiety I’d experienced for months, although, admittedly, many were in more dire financial shape.  I watched the “we’re all in this together” commercials, the “we can do it” encouragement statements from celebrities, and as paranoid as I was about catching the virus, secretly, a part of me was relieved.  Granted, my unemployment benefits were ending, with no other source of income in sight.  But there was no hope of getting a job, anyway.  I no longer had to feel guilty for not working, because no one was hiring.  Selfish?  Yep, sure was.  So then I felt guilty about not feeling guilt over my joblessness.  And so it’s gone for the last several months.  I’m working on letting go of the agonizing, but it’s tough going against my upbringing.

Yesterday, I was thinking about how, since mid-March, most of us have seen our lives become….less.  Here in Ohio, we couldn’t enjoy leisurely dinners at our favorite restaurants.  No movies.  No sports events.  No trips to the bookstore.  In some states, those restrictions still hold, to a greater or lesser extent.  The word “contracting” came to mind.  Our big, wide lives were no longer available.  Trips to the grocery and DIY stores were the highlighted outings for the week, sometimes complemented by sneaking in for some drive-by food. 

For most of the country, it has been a simultaneous double whammy — drastically changed or eliminated working conditions, coupled with very limited opportunity for escaping the house.  It was a twice-over reduction in our circumstances, especially for those who were emotionally tied to jobs and offices or stores.  It escalated to a triple whammy for parents tasked with entertaining and educating their children all of a sudden.  Worse still for those with extended families they could no longer see in person.  I have a mental picture of a circle around our lives that shrank by half, then pulled in yet further, like a tightening drawstring.  No wonder a large part of the country has felt traumatized.  Especially in the United States, we simply aren’t used to prescribed boundaries with no give to them, a rat-in-the-maze-with-no-exit feeling.

Hindsight tells me that I’ve been much more fortunate than I realized, since last August.  I had a chance to become accustomed to being at home, socializing via phone and e-mail.  I hadn’t quite become accepting of not having a job, not being professionally productive, but I had time to confront the situation and begin to deal with it before chaos hit our society.  Today’s mantra:  be grateful for our graces as we receive them. 

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