Remember how as a kid you’d play a game and get stomped, and immediately afterwards you’d say, “I want a do-over!”
And remember how sometimes you’d get the do-over, and other times you wouldn’t? Or how it was the other way around and you’d be the one granting the do-over or not, as mood and circumstances saw fit?
Then remember how you got older and maybe you flunked a test or lost an important contest, had your heart broken, flushed your hard-earned cash down a toilet, and someone said to you, “No do-overs.” That moment as an older child or a young adult stuck with you forever, the iron law of life over-writing the hope and optimism of childhood: There are no do-overs.
Well, it’s Sunday and you’ve been in some sort of quarantine or restricted movement for a week or two, maybe longer. Whatever your routines were, they’ve been smashed and replaced with something else. Most of the chains that dragged you through the day have been broken and you’re mostly at the mercy of the dreaded Whatever Happens Next. Of course you always were, but now it is crystal clear, undeniable, and reinforced every moment of every day.
From the balcony of my apartment I can see lots of new routines. There’s an old guy in his 80’s on a clunker bike who pedals all the way down Old Hawthorne to Shorewood, does a u-turn, and pedals all the way back to the bottom of the hill. This is the only flat stretch around. It’s carless and he can’t get up the hill, but the quarantine has driven him out of his car, into his garage, onto his bike, and into the streets.
I watch him pedal slowly, with huge efforts because even though it’s flat, it’s not flat at all, more like a long gradual grade. Sometimes he wears a helmet, sometimes he wears a bright orange vest, but he is out there two or three times a day, a guy I’ve never seen in almost ten years of balcony-watching.
Nor is he alone. I struck out yesterday for a four-hour stroll and in the beginning the streets were clogged with walkers, runners, and bicycle riders. By clogged I mean that people were out in ones and twos for mile after mile after mile in a neighborhood where I’ve gone weeks without seeing another person in a yard who wasn’t holding a leaf blower. One old lady was perched on a short stone wall with her dog on a leash petting a cat and chatting on the phone. Another guy and his son were washing the car. Their dog loped up and sat on my feet as I bent over and petted him.
The dog, whose name was Rover, stuck his nose up at me. I bent over and he sniffed my nose then licked my chin. The more I petted him the harder he leaned on my legs.
“He will sit there all day if you let him,” the dad said. I considered letting him, but finally moved on.
The entire walk I breathed more crystalline air and shot glances off towards downtown, twenty miles distant, the skyscrapers clear and glinting even on this overcast day. That’s when I realized it: This is our do-over.
It’s our chance to change government, economy, environment, and social relations, but even more than that, it’s our chance to change ourselves. That dream you’ve always had? This is the do-over that will let you do it, and guess what? It’s never coming around again. Never again in your life or mine will things come so completely to a halt that we are literally free to turn in whatever direction our hearts desire.
Those tiny routines that have been thrust on us by a stopped world are hinting at what’s possible. Cleaner air, cleaner water, less stress, wholesome food, real interactions, and breaking the addictions to news, drugs, alcohol, #socmed, toxic relationships, terrible jobs, sedentary lifestyles, shopping for the sake of acquisition … these things have always been possible but today they are possible for everyone at once. The fabled and cliched “same page” or “same sheet of music” is finally in front of all of us at once.
Will you emphatically sit on this chance it like Rover did on my feet, seizing the opportunity? Or will you let it run, like sand, through your wriggling toes, leaving no trace at all on your life after this all ends?
My advice is simple. Return to your childhood. Take the do-over and run with it. Take it now.
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