By Lauren Apfel
Silver linings. I’ve been thinking a lot about silver linings. And the idea that even as the world outside swirls with virus and fear and we, each of us, stare the possibility of untold sickness in the face every single day, our worlds inside, at the very same time, can be offering up strangely wonderful gifts.
How’s your quarantine? For those of us who’ve been lucky enough to stay well, to know that our loved ones, scattered though they are, are safe and well too, this seems to be the question. What’s it like in your house, it means, how are you coping? What are the unique conditions that might be making your experience of lockdown manageable, happy even, or the opposite? Are you alone, are you saddled with small children, are you struggling financially? Is your sanity hanging, that is, by a filament or a rope?
I’m having a good quarantine. Can I say that? It comes with a degree of guilt, to be sure, and who knows how long it will last, but it also comes with the sense that sometimes there really is lemonade and when the universe slides you a cold, tart glass across the table it’s okay to take a sip. My girlfriend and I live cities apart, a small sea apart. We see each other usually once a month, a weekend at a time. But she and her daughter happened to have flown into Glasgow in the middle of March for my son’s school play and, well, they never left. For the past five weeks we’ve been able to go to sleep together and wake up together day in and day out. To have all of our children under one roof for the first, and probably last, time. It’s an opportunity to live as a whole family we will likely, for various reasons out of our control, never have again.
Alongside this, my custody arrangement has shifted in a way I couldn’t have predicted. My ex-husband, usually strained and out of town for work, is home now, is uncharacteristically flexible. He’s taking the kids three days a week, every week. We are getting along well to boot. He invites me in for breakfast when we hand them over on a Friday morning and I remember for an hour or so what it is to taste his strong coffee, slightly too bitter for me, just like it used to be. I eat the baked goods he’s started making since we separated two years ago and we catch up on our children and talk politics and I feel again, if only for a little while, why we loved each other but also why we are better off without each other.
I’ve been seeing silver linings, in unexpected packages, for many of my friends too. The one who’s been stuck in a loop with her estranged husband in their flat but who’s garnered now a newfound clarity about next steps. The one who started a new job a few months ago, a big change, a hard commute, and is thriving now because it’s a food delivery service. The one who had an empty nest that is all of a sudden brimming with birds again.
All being well, this will end soon. We will go back to “normal,” whatever normal, for each of us, is. There will no doubt be huge benefits to re-entering the world as it was, but I hope there will also be change. Real change. That we will have learned things, as people do in the jaws of crisis, about who we are and what really makes us happy in our personal pursuits and relationships. Learned things about our politics and the state of the Earth and what really matters in the decisions we make as a society.
Before long my girlfriend will go home and my childcare responsibilities will ratchet back up and schedules and busyness and external commitments will descend upon me once more. But I will remember these silver linings, the joy and the softenings I was fortunate enough to experience during this strange, strange time, and I will try, as best I can, to take them forward.
Silver Lining: The worst situation has some element of hope or some redeeming quality. John Milton appears to have been the originator of this metaphor, in Comus (1634): “A sable cloud turns forth its silver lining on the night.”
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