(Editor’s note: A week ago, Irene Schindler shared how a wife and husband have figured out the quarantine together, in close quarters. This time, she looks ahead to mental preparations for post-pandemic life. This essay is part of Bethesda Beat’s Coronavirus Chronicles personal essay series. Visit the submission page to learn more.)
For the past 15 weeks, I’ve been watching an alien mold emerge at the base of an oak tree.
I observe this shape-shifting entity with reverence and alarm: We live near the National Institutes of Health. I suspect that some long-forgotten genetic strand of biological debris escaped, then calculated that it should occupy the frontage by this unassuming oak.
Why do I suspect this? Because it knows I would be freaked out.
Each day brings a new revelation. Undulating white fluff congeals to form porous, grey sediment with yellow veins coursing through it. The thing looks like a human brain.
Repulsed at first, I grew intrigued with its combination of tenacity and indifference. Affected by neither frigid breezes nor ceaseless sunlight, it seems to take pleasure in simply being.
That, or it basks in freaking me out.
I am, by nature, not a nature girl. In the spirit of those for whom camping is staying in a downscale hotel, my idea of a spiritual retreat is the perfume counter of Bloomingdale’s.
So unnatural is the natural world for me that as a kid, I would beg my counselors at the YMCA camp to let me lick envelopes while enjoying the aroma of ditto fluid from the office mimeograph machines.
My feelings about the daily push-me-pull-you with the outdoor alien are this: I want to throw myself into the whole experience, but I can think of lots of reasons to put it off.
Sort of like how I feel about returning to life after COVID-19.
I crave hugs and printed menus and sneezes that don’t launch panic attacks in anyone within six feet. But I’ve also developed new routines that I like, or that at least feel comfortable.
I’m beginning to wonder what it will be like to be immersed in a life that once again includes daily traffic traumas, meetings that are more self-congratulatory than necessary, and client encounters that require me to wear pants.
Acquisition, striving and setting new goals have always been part of my DNA, but my silent communal exchange with this oddball organic creature has reminded me that though I may not understand much about it, I can be open to the unexpected, and learn to embrace uncertainty — hopefully, better than I did before both COVID-19 and the alien.
Not every email from an editor is a rejection. It might be something good.
Not every text from your kid is bad news. Maybe they paid a bill on their own.
Even if I don’t always understand why or how I find myself in situations I can’t control, I don’t have to pre-live my imminent demise every time the phone rings after 10 p.m.
If the NIH blob didn’t turn out to be the end of the world, maybe I can start assuming better things for the other uncertainties out there. Though, I don’t see a way around having to wear pants in the conference room.
Irene Schindler is a college essay specialist, young adult writer and empty nester who lives in Chevy Chase.