Living with an asterisk ***

This spring has been very loosey-goosey; this is my least favorite kind of season. I prefer a full calendar with a pretty clear sense of what I can expect around the corner. For a long time, I’ve been able to pull off this level of reliability and consistency. I’d put things on my family calendar and there was an excellent chance that we’d make it there. 

When COVID-19 hit and all of our plans disappeared, I felt more and more uneasy as I watched the graduations and track meets evaporate off our calendar. Who were we as a family if we weren’t busy? Where would I find solid ground if everything was in flux? 

I read an article in The Atlantic, called “Our Pandemic Summer,” that helped me understand the importance of resilience. One section in particular talked about groups of people who were managing this upheaval well. Spoiler alert: it’s the already marginalized groups, such as the disabled, who have been training their whole lives for this kind of situation. The author interviewed a physically disabled woman named Ashley Shew who already had “a flexible attitude toward timekeeping that comes from uncertainty.” Shew said, “Everything I enter in my calendar has an asterisk in my mind. Maybe it’ll happen, maybe it won’t, depending on my next cancer scan or what’s happening in my body. I already live in this world when I’m measuring in shorter increments, when my future has already been planned differently.” 

The asterisk was already a way of life for her. I wasn’t used to putting an asterisk in my mind, but I should have been. I suspect that many of us have been living under the illusion of control and predictability. All of our plans are actually “best case scenario” hopes. 

What I viewed as a normal way of moving through the world is actually a very privileged approach. My ability to make things happen—to get us to events, to get the ball over the line, to get my kids what they need—is a kind of privilege, linked to being an upper-middle class, middle-aged white woman with a reliable car and good credit. I thought I had my act together, but what I actually had were decent connections, good social standing and the ability to read a room. This served me well, until it didn’t.

This spring, my husband has helped me see these unstructured weeks as bonus time with our kids. Changing gears was easier for him—perhaps because he hasn’t worshipped the idol of getting things done that I have. I’ve struggled more to accept that all along, we were living with an asterisk. 

As life slowly opens back up in the next few months, I want to be intentional about what I carry with me from this loosey-goosey time. Now that I know that our plans should have always had an asterisk beside them, I hope I’ll remember that I can handle some degree of not knowing. I hope that I can adopt a mindset of “maybe it will happen” instead of doing everything in my power to make things happen. I want to be able to look that asterisk in the eye and see possibility instead of blankness. I want to not be so afraid of what’s around the corner. 

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