Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining

By Sarah Ann Noel

“ …we begin to understand how much has always been at our fingertips, even when we were too busy to notice it.”

I am not an optimist. Or this is what I tell my mother, who is the accurately self-proclaimed Pollyanna of the family. I’m not a pessimist either, and I prefer to say that the balance is in realism, although with my flair for the dramatic, I might miss that mark more often than I care to admit.

Maybe less than a realist, I am the historian. I am rarely present in a situation, and instead, somewhere outside of it, making observations, taking notes. I like a tidy presentation of ‘What I Thought About a Thing’ once it’s all over. Perhaps the bias of history is simply this, the advantage of hindsight, of piecing together a record.

Joan Didion famously penned an essay about keeping a notebook. She wrote, “The point of my keeping a notebook has never been an accurate factual record of what I have been doing or thinking…. How it felt to me: that is getting closer to the truth about a notebook.” We’re all living out our daily lives looking through our own lenses, so I suppose it is our prerogative to tint them pink. My congratulations to people like my mom who can do this on the fly—and props also to those like myself, who take a little while to come around, but can eventually find and record the good in a thing.

For transparency’s sake, this Stay-at-Home order has not significantly altered my life. My husband and I both work from home every day anyhow. Before we moved to Evergreen, we were traveling while running a business and homeschooling our kids. Distance learning hasn’t been without its challenges, but we’ve fallen into a familiar, workable routine. We live in this incredible community where I can sit in the sun or hike in the trees without leaving my property. Even in the best of circumstances, however, and especially with the social distancing recommendations currently extending through the end of April, dismay can descend rather quickly. How long can we manage this rhythm? What will happen to our economy? Will we all stay healthy?

To stop the pattern, I returned to the practice of record-keeping. I found myself documenting quiet afternoons sketching with my kids, the breeze blowing through the treetops, a homemade broth bubbling on the stove. I made a little video of all my observations, set to music. Frankly, it made this strange life look rather rosy after all, and I realized we can find the silver linings even if we’re stuck in our houses watching the clouds float by our windows.

One of the most incredible things about the COVID-19 experience is how it is a universal one. It is leveling the playing field. Neither the virus nor the rules surrounding its spread differentiate along typical dividing lines. We see a global unification, a refreshed appreciation for humanity, and when we choose, a renewed sense of positivity, even in the midst of our uncertainty and stress. And I say “we” because in the hope to keep the record straight—to make sure I wasn’t actually cracking, tumbling into that silly place where everything is funny and feverish—I asked others around town, “OK, weird as it sounds, what do you like about this self-quarantining?”

“There’s an obvious desire for connection popping up in various forms,” said Andi Burnum, a local artist. “Neighbors I don’t know slow down and wave when I’m walking the dog. I see families playing outside and they wave as I pass.”

My friend, Shannon Gwash, who works in mental health, agreed that, suddenly, people are recognizing how communal we are as humans. “The sense of community is incredibly uplifting. I’ve had conversations with my neighbors. People make a point to say hello. We’re longing for connection and we’re leaning in to find it again within our local community.”

This is occurring at the individual level—conversations with neighbors, friends checking in on each other—and it is also a much broader effort. In many ways, the local community has rallied around its neighbors and small businesses. As businesses pivot and reorganize to stay open, residents have placed online orders, stocked up on gift cards, hosted fundraisers and spread the word.

We’re making do with limited options within our secondary communities, and it is replacing emphasis on our primary community, one that, unfortunately, often gets neglected in life’s busyness: our homes, our families.

“I have loved the very unique chance to be quiet together as a family for the first time in a long time,” Melissa Payne told me. An author and a mom of teenagers, those family moments are often blurred into multiple busy schedules.

“We have had to abandon our routines and schedules and all the noise. Now, we have time for family dinners, talking, time to reach out. There’s time for getting upset and working through it together. We have time to really be there for each other when the weight of all of this hangs a little too heavy.”

Local yoga instructor Carisa Diesburg agrees. “I’ve loved this time of family, all under one roof. We’ve had Zoom calls with family and friends. We play Trivial Pursuit with Alexa. We go on hikes. We’re cooking and baking together,” she said. And when the time at home has felt a little too closed in, her family has found creative ways to explore the world! “We love finding landmarks on Google virtual tours!”

Sometimes, shrinking our world makes us more aware of the very vastness of it. As humans retreat and sit quietly with their hands folded, we see Mother Nature reawakening and stretching back into her space. The smog is clearing over metropolitan areas. Monkeys are running around Thailand. There are dolphins in the Venetian canals!

Danielle Krystofik says that she and her family have turned their attention to the earth. “We are all becoming more environmentally conscious as we see these changes in the earth. My family participated in Earth Hour 2020,” she explains.

And Gwash agrees. “I appreciate that this has actually helped the environment.”

Shrink it back down. What about our personal environments? ‘You’re locked up in your house so you might as well clean it’ has been the humorous advice—but it works. Local Realtor Meredith Andersen says, “We have cleaned out the closets. We’ve been doing projects and painting. We’ve walked the neighborhood. We have fallen in love with our home all over again.”

What a time to experience mass isolation from the comfort of these homes, in the age of the internet, when celebrities and masters in their crafts are connecting with all people everywhere. My children have taken drawing lessons from Mo Willems, have listened to Oliver Jeffers read stories, and have danced to Dave Matthews live-streaming from his own home.

For some, it is a savored time of quiet and healing without having to intentionally withdraw from society. Maribeth Vyain says, “Everyday that I can be home creating, making wholesome food from scratch and breathing in the fresh mountain air is a good enough day for me. I find this time to be somewhat of a mental reset. No excuses not to exercise or invest time into my son’s schoolwork. This is life, pure and simple. Nowhere to rush off to… only the here and now.”

It was the perspective shift that I was hungry for when I began seeking out these stories. I wanted to, collectively, in the face of hardship, catalog what we could call good.

“Just a few short weeks ago, our world was spinning at an intense and negative pace,” says Lindsey DuRussell. “Well, sometimes the universe works in mysterious ways. This time has allowed my husband and me a chance to slow down, focus on being present, and increase love, positivity and thoughtful communication.”

In the philosophical sense, we begin to understand how much has always been at our fingertips, even when we were too busy to notice it.

“This has made me question why we fill our lives with so much,” says Payne. “I wonder how we will move back into our normal lives, and hopefully we will bring a piece of this quiet with us. It makes me aware and very grateful for the gifts we’ve had all along.”

These are strange times and can create difficult circumstances for many. In no way would I ever want to make light of the complications this quarantine has presented, the toll it can take on a person, a family or a budget. At the same time, it is often hardship that becomes a refining tool, strengthening us into a better version of ourselves on the other side. That’s the story I want to write. That’s how this will go down in my history book: the bizarre, nearly apocalyptic chapter of my life that left me with a greater sense of peace and purpose.