Red Light: taken April 15, 2020, as a part of my Sunsets from Quarantine series.
Well, here we are. It's another holiday in the year of every-day's-a-holiday. There are more rules than ever and no rules anymore at all at the very same time. I don't need the holiday as an
excuse. This is my first-ever blog post. I'm cracking a beer.
As I take my first sip, I count one hundred and nine days that have passed since I got the order to close up shop at the Blue Heaven tower bar by 5 p.m. on March 17th (or else). What so suddenly turned into a somber Saint Patrick's Day with gaggles of lost, lingering tourists bumbling blindly around the island in search of one more beer has blurred into the most independent Independence Day I've ever lived. I clink cans with my mirror self to commemorate the new norm and really drive my independence home. "This is fine," I tell myself. "Everything's fine." Nearly a third of a year and many lessons later, I am not the same. I'm guessing that neither are you.
When Florida's Governor Ron DeSantis made the announcement that restaurants and bars would close, many people were blindsided. Folks speculated that we would see a pause of maybe 30 days at most in our precious routines. Deep down, I knew it would be more. Since then, we've jumped hurdles of every color—and even many about color. While the ways that we're stretched thin certainly vary by circumstance, one thing feels sure: People are stretched thinner than ever. Perspectives are completely polarized. Emotions are heightened. Tempers are shorter. Everyone seems on edge. As I prepare to go back to work with the public this week, I have several fears, but my concern about how other people will manage and direct their emotions is possibly bigger than any fear I have of contracting COVID-19.
It is in light of these thoughts that I find it both so contrasting and so fitting that I ceremoniously close this chapter of my life today, a holiday celebrating freedom. Freedom, as they say, is never free. Something—and often someone—must always be sacrificed to obtain it, and without the contrasting element(s), it cannot exist. For 109 days, I was free of my day job. I was free of a lot of structure and routine. I was free of spending too much money, of waking up early if I didn't want to, of most social gatherings, of concerts, and of parties. I was free to do many things in place of my being free of others. In fact, I was free to do whatever I wanted, just not that, or that, or that.
I paid a high price, but I did find freedom. In the space that opened where things were lost, I found gratitude for what blossomed in their place. I had the freedom to choose how I reacted to many circumstances outside of my control, and I chose to make the most of what was left. I sacrificed much of my social life, but I deepened my relationships with a few close friends. I sacrificed creating craft cocktails for people from all over the world, but I got to make art and ship it to people all over the country. I sacrificed dining out, but I learned new recipes and planted my first garden. I sacrificed my gym time, but I practiced a lot of yoga, which really helped me manage the stress that inevitably followed. Where I was lacking in certainty, I was rich with newfound time to process, to create, to listen, to learn, and to continue to heal.
As an empath in overwhelming times, this time and space was critical. I realize I was fortunate enough to have that freedom to choose. I realize that so many never got the privileges and opportunities I had to shape this experience of quarantine into something less horrifying. (Need we go over the fact that not everyone is able to enjoy the same privileges and opportunities as each other again?) I feel so deeply for those who have lost their jobs and homes, been forced to move, risked their health and the health of their families so that we could enjoy some stability in the system, or worst of all, grieved the death of a loved one in a time when a proper funeral was forbidden. I gave whatever extra I had when I had it, and I was lucky to be a part of a community of people who took care of me in several wonderful ways, too. I saw a lot of human ugliness, but I also saw some serious beauty. My heart goes out to everyone still struggling. And although I'm going back to do some bartending, that hardly means that the pandemic is over. As we know, it's raging on. It's fair to say that most of us will be struggling in our own ways for quite a while, and some may never recover. The gloomy, stagnant nature of intermittent shutdowns, cancellations, and ongoing uncertainty about the future can create a breeding ground for depression. Without hopes, dreams, or goals, humans cannot thrive. We must try our best to set attainable objectives in the interim. The show must go on, and although we may feel like we're stuck in many ways, if you look back at these past few months, you may just find that life and your own personal growth have continued in spite of you. I hope that you keep searching for your own "freedoms to" in the holes where your "freedoms from" have fallen. I hope you find peace in what is and continue to respect others while also always fighting for what you believe you deserve. As you remember that "this, too, shall pass," I hope you take a moment to notice what's growing in the cracks. And I hope that what's growing is better than what was.
Some things will return to familiarity. Some will never be the same again. We know that change is unavoidable, yet, like the crotchety old men most of us are deep down inside, we're always trying to shoo the Change off our lawn and avoid it nonetheless. Last week, I transplanted some new plants into my garden and spread others out, as my little green kids are growing up fast, and plants sometimes need to be thinned to accommodate their expansion. The crops I moved exhibited some transplant shock, which can often be expected when disturbing their delicate roots. Several of them wilted completely, and I thought I might lose a few. With the aid of the Google gods and some extra care, I learned how to help them adapt. I learned that if your plant is struggling, you may need to cut back some leaves to take some of the burden off of the roots. As it turns out, challenges and transitions can be rough on just about anybody. Remember to take care of yourself through the changes. Try to be compassionate with others when they fall short and compassionate with yourself if you're feeling like you're not doing or being enough right now. Let me be real here: There were significantly more waterworks than watercolors throughout this time for me. Remember not to compare your bigger picture to others' highlight reels. This second half of 2020, try to guide the change that does come into your life to be a more mindful change, rooted in hope and love, not anger and fear. I hope that you expand more than you cling, and I hope you find your own ways to bloom where you're planted.
I'm inclined to believe that if you're the same person you were last year, you're doing it wrong. I'm not out celebrating right now. I'm not relaxing by a body of water decked out in my red, white, and blues. Honestly, somehow, that doesn't feel right in this moment, anyway. This Fourth of July, I'm drinking a beer alone, typing out some wobbly thoughts drifting nervously from my head, and that's okay. There are no fireworks here tonight.
And yet, there is a spark.
Artworks from Quarantine:
The Shutdown, Passing Moments, and Sunsets from Quarantine:
"Verily all things move within your being in constant half embrace, the desired and the dreaded, the repugnant and the cherished, the pursued and that which you would escape.
These things move within you as lights and shadows in pairs that cling.
And when the shadow fades and is no more, the light that lingers becomes a shadow to another light.
And thus your freedom when it loses its fetters becomes itself the fetter of a greater freedom."
-Kahlil Gibran, "On Freedom"
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