I used to work with a woman who told this story about her toddler daughter:
The little girl had come running up to my colleague that morning before daycare to breathlessly announce to her Mom that she'd misplaced a favorite toy.
"Did you look for it in [insert obvious place]?" Mom asks.
"Yes!" Daughter replies. "And there it was: not there!"
Ah yes, I think lately. I know the feeling.
This memory comes into my head more and more lately: when I'm setting up for a Zoom meeting. Watching the sun shift over my laptop, past my desk's horizon, sinking into the snowy marsh beyond. Mornings, when I'm drifting from asleep to awake, hearing-but-not-hearing ticking radiators, birds chirping in the eaves of the roof.
Here I am, not here.
I've been preparing myself for the onslaught of COVID in America: One Year Under Lockdown content that's about to engulf us by spending my days imagining that, in some Matrix-like way, a parallel version of me is living the life I would have had, if not for COVID-19.
In my alternate reality I'm currently planning some quick getaway to somewhere in the sun. In New England, winter becomes too long around late February; once Valentine's Day rolls around, I just want out. Give me Santa Monica; give me the Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico: I need a few days of straight-up Vitamin D. Usually just a long weekend is enough to hold me until May.
This alternate Matrix-variety me is always in motion, doing the things I would be doing if only I could: packing a suitcase, having sushi with friends, strolling through the farmer's market.
And here I am, not here.
On February mornings in my parallel life, I take a freezing and well-bundled walk up Columbus Avenue for early yoga class, swearing again and again that this is the last time I'm leaving home before dawn in February, ever.
But then I'm breathing and sweating with other people and when we squeeze out of the studio into what has become a freezing and brilliant blue winter morning, we wish each other a good day in the offhand, see-you-next-time way in which we used to so easily disengage.
But here we are: not here.
I think this must be true for all of us, all of humanity, and maybe we need to stop and listen:
We are not in a familiar place, and we are longing to be there.
We are getting impatient and cranky and wistful and depressed, all in the space of one breath, just remembering the feeling of being in that place.
It's so hard, this whole discomfort thing.
What I know is that when we measure our days and lives against the benchmark of what they used to be or what we used to have, life begins to feel like one insanely long and drawn-out sucker punch.
Maybe, like me, you feel like my friend's little girl: flummoxed and angered by the situation, but seemingly powerless to change it.
It's been almost a year of feeling this way.
I'm crossing Upper Broadway, watching the icy Hudson from Riverside Park, laughing in my best friend's kitchen.
But I'm not.
Instead, I will power down, meditate for a while on mantras for abundance and gratitude and make a healthy meal for my family.
That, or I'm grabbing the tub of Cheese Balls and binge-watching Nurse Jackie again from under my favorite, stained Eddie Bauer throw.
You take care of you.