Go into any antique shop, thrift store or resale shop and you will surely find evidence of your grandmother’s strength, and calm resolve in the face of difficult times. Stacks of embroidered linens, linens with lacy crocheted or tatted edgings, and crochet doilies, dressers scarves and collars, abound. What does this have to do with strength and resilience in the face of fear and uncertainty?
These items, patiently and lovingly handcrafted, were what your grandmothers and great-grandmothers were working on while their men were away fighting in a brutal war.
Their lives were far more difficult than ours because there was very little news from the front and letters could take weeks to arrive, if at all. The way they survived this immeasurable uncertainty and fear was to stay busy. When we keep our hands occupied it is easier to keep our minds from racing headlong toward the worst-case scenario they are so drawn to.
None of us wants life to change. The curious thing about humans is that we think things will always stay the same even when there is evidence all around us that life changes constantly. In this way, we cause ourselves unnecessary suffering. The changes that the novel coronavirus is causing are drastic, yet these kinds of societal upheavals have happened before and humans have always found ways to adapt.
Many of our grandmothers and great-grandmothers also went through a depression. Talk about disrupting your life. Food shortages, little or no income, people leaping to their death when the crash happened — they were dealing with all of this. Life changed drastically. The ones who came through the best were the ones who were willing to adapt and find ways to make the best of ongoing hardship.
As we face the upsetting changes to our society that COVID-19 is causing, we can take a page from the book written by the women who found ways to keep life going despite the hardships they were facing during the Great Depression and WWII.
If you should find yourself quarantined, or choosing to stay home to prevent unnecessary spread of the disease, take this opportunity to get busy doing things you have put off or never seem to have time for. Maybe embroidery is not your thing, but something is. Pull out your sewing machine, get out your knitting that has been waiting for you to pick it up, go into your workshop and work on that jewelry box you were making for someone.
If you have always said you would write if you had time, now is the time. Get out your watercolors and paint. Organize your pantry. Spend more time making nourishing and comforting meals.
Read some of those books that are sitting in your stack waiting for just such a moment. Start baking your own bread, clean out your closets, do some spring cleaning.
It doesn’t matter what you do, it just matters that you do something with your time besides worrying, refreshing your newsfeed, or sitting glued to the 24- hour news cycle.
Like our grandmothers before us, when we are faced with crisis there is very little we can control about the outcome, but there is a lot we can control about how we choose to adapt and spend our time.
Put on some uplifting music — whatever that is for you — and enjoy your home in a way that you haven’t been able to with your overly busy life. Jen Lemen says, “Clean your house like you are preparing for a new world because you are.” Throw open the windows and let the fresh air in. Show your home some love.
If we see this opportunity as a gift it will be easier. See it as a catastrophe and you will be sucking a sour lemon instead of drinking sweet, refreshing lemonade.
Start a Garden
Our grandmother’s reality during the war was food rationing. Every family was issued a book of stamps which allowed them a certain amount of food each week, like milk, eggs, butter, sugar, meat and cooking oil. The way to counteract this restrictive food supply was to supplement with food from your own backyard.
WWII was the time of the Victory Garden. Citizens were encouraged to help the war effort by growing their own food so the government could send the country’s commercial food supply to the “boys on the front.”
Backyard gardens sprung up everywhere, and the fresh produce that a little patch of ground could supply was welcome in the face of tinned meat and powdered eggs.
Backyard gardening is something that many people still do, but some have never grown anything and are convinced they have a black thumb. I say nonsense. There is no such thing as a black thumb, just a lack of knowledge. There is so much information available on the internet and in books, from your local county agent, and friends and family with gardening experience, there is no reason not to give it a try.
When the world seems to spin out of control, growing a juicy ripe tomato in your garden or on your patio can give you a sense of control and satisfaction like nothing else.
When you bite into a homegrown tomato, ripened in the sun, you feel sure that all is not lost. There is hope, yet, that the world will right itself and in the meantime, you are eating the ‘fruit of the gods’ that you grew with your own hands. The added benefit is that people who grow their own produce tend to eat more fresh food and this makes us healthier and boosts our immune system.
You do not need a large space to grow some of your own food. A little 3x3 patch of ground can fill your plate with salad greens, tomatoes, peppers and herbs. Containers on a patio can also work, even if you live in an apartment.
Community gardens are great if you have one near you, and if you don’t, maybe you could start one. Gardening with others is a great way to learn, and the support of working together is an added benefit in a time of social distancing and upheaval.
Being outdoors in the fresh air and sunshine is a great stress reliever and also immune booster. There really is no way to lose when you start growing some of your own food.
Reach Out to One Another
In times of national crisis, we have the opportunity to respond by realizing we are all in this together, and allowing that realization to tear down walls of separation between us.
Jen Lemen says one of the things you can do in the time of coronavirus is “go next door and say, If you need anything, I’m here, just call.”
We live our lives disconnected from each other in real ways even though we are more connected in virtual ways than ever before in history. The strange thing about this is that we may have friends we have never met in other parts of the world, but we have never bothered getting to know our neighbors who are right next door.
Now is a good time to start reaching out, saying “I’m here” and building a network of support in the community around you. When the war was on in our grandmother’s time, neighbors popped into each other’s back door regularly. Whether they were bringing news, a bunch of flowers from the garden, or a pie, neighborhoods were strong because of these kinds of connections. Let’s work to reestablish this kind of network.
Create New Rituals
When life changes, one of the things that gets upended is our routines and our rituals. Our grandparents had to find new ways to celebrate, creating new rituals to sustain them through the long, difficult years of the great depression and then the war. Life was difficult then, but people understood the importance of celebrating the joys, nonetheless.
We have opportunities to reimagine our celebrations and rituals. We have the ability to be together virtually, and this would be a good time to take advantage of this.
If you normally stop off at your local pub on the way home from work, that may no longer be an option — at least for a while. So how do you establish new rituals that will bring comfort and satisfaction?
Think outside the box. Instead of stopping at a pub, how about setting up a facetime happy hour with a few close friends. It takes a little effort to make the best of a hard situation, but the alternative is to fall into despair, decrying how unfair life is. We all need to do what we can to celebrate our lives and make them special, even when things are changing all around us.
Maybe you can still have your child’s birthday party by using FaceTime or Skype. Ask everyone to buy party horns and hats, or send them to everyone if you have time before the party, and then go live with cake, balloons, streamers and music. Finding new ways to do things and still enjoy life is key.
Make a Pot of Tea and Enjoy the Moment
One of my favorite rituals is tea time. When my children were young, we would have tea in the afternoons when they got home from school, sharing the happenings of our day and enjoying tea and whatever treat I had made that day.
We always used the best tea cups and saucers, pretty linen napkins, a nice tray and a flowered tea pot. Some days I would make scones and lemon curd. Some days we would have a store bought cookie. It didn’t matter what we ate, what mattered was that I went to the trouble to make it special. It was a ritual we all looked forward to.
The other day I looked at my collection of tea cups on a shelf. They are dusty from misuse, so I took them down and washed them. I put the kettle on. I put loose tea in a tea ball. I took my time and made a ritual out of making a cup of tea in a beautiful tea cup. Instead of slouching in my chair with my phone while I sipped my tea, I took it outside on the deck in the sun, and drank in the day while I drank my tea. Just fifteen minutes made me feel ready to tackle the remainder of my day with optimism and joy.
Do What You Can With What You Have
There are many things we can do to feel calmer and more in control of lives right now. In many ways, we have advantages that our grandmothers did not have that can ease the burden of our new reality.
Now is the time to look at what we do have, not what we don’t, and make the best of it. That is what our grandmothers were doing when they made dresses from flour sacks, cakes with no milk or eggs, and reused things we think nothing of tossing out.
Look around and see what you do have and get to work making a life from it.
Go in the kitchen and whip up your special dessert. Call a friend you haven’t talked to in a while and try to talk about something besides the virus. Watch a funny movie.
Knit, garden, cook or read. This is life, too, it’s just different than the one we were living. We have a choice to follow our grandmothers’ example and make the best of things, or soak in our misery and miss a great chance to test our own resilience.
We will survive this and it will pass. Nothing lasts forever. Let’s figure out how to get through this with the grace and ease that so many people in the past have shown when faced with equally challenging times.
Right now, I am going to make a pot of tea. I hope you will join me.