A few months ago when I started trying to tweak some lifestyle choices, let’s say back in October, I read online somewhere it takes 21 days for a new practice to become a habit. Okay, just under a month, I get it. Can there possibly be a one-size-fits-all calculus for a thing as monumental as adjusting one’s lifestyle habits, though?
I thought about this earlier today standing in my kitchen, slicing into hot oatmeal bread The Chef had just pulled out of the oven, slathering butter on it, and then shoving it into my face. When it’s finished and ready to eat, I told him, I want to know about it. As you’d probably agree, there’s no better time to eat freshly baked bread than that moment, and it is fleeting.
I ate the tiny heel of the braided loaf, and then sliced off another small portion and buttered and ate it, too. Every bad eating habit I’ve known in my life came bubbling right up in that instant, and so I made myself walk out of the kitchen, no harm done. But I so easily could have kept on going. Three weeks? I seriously doubt it. Which is not to say I haven’t been able to achieve new habits—I most assuredly have, and I’m tickled to pieces to fit into some warm-weather swag that has not seen the light of day for a long time. And aside from the blown-out meniscus in my right knee, I feel great right now.
But it has been a haul, and this morning’s little indulgence reminded me how hard I’ve worked to get here.
I join the rest of the entire planet at this moment adjusting to the strain of new habits, not by choice, but because we must. I wonder, as so many others have, which among them will be permanent—anybody who truly believes life will soon look again like it did a few months ago is surely in denial, or at least misinformed, based on the overwhelming indicators that suggest it won’t. But The Chef and I have been talking about this lately and agree that some of the new habits that might stick around for a while aren’t half bad at all.
Case in point: Lots of folks are actually cooking, and even baking. If you doubt that, you should see the baking aisle at the local supermarket where we do our weekly shop; the King Arthur Flour we love has been out of stock now for several weeks (not to worry, we have…connections). But we’ve always cooked in this household, and not just because one of us is a professional chef—we look at eating out as a luxury, a thing we indulge in mainly when we travel, and we just plain enjoy being in our kitchen and making beautiful cuisine. (The only time I hate it is when I’m tired, hungry, and pinched for time.) Is it such a bad thing if people, Americans, in rediscovering their kitchens and the joy of transforming a pile of ingredients into something nutritious and savory, keep on doing that after this hell has ended?
And what of getting outdoors for exercise? (Never mind discovering nature, a thing I keep on hearing about when I flip on the news—that some people are actually noticing the wildlife in their own backyards.) I’ll admit to being aggravated and grumpy when I see people congregating in big groups, like the kids still do over at our local rec center, turning a blind eye to The Rules when the governor has specifically beseeched us not to so we can stop community spread, that kind of thing. But this plague will leave us eventually, and we’ll have had far longer than a paltry three weeks to embrace getting outside for exercise as a new habit.
Last week an economist predicted sweeping and long-overdue reforms to the beleaguered American healthcare system, post-pandemic. Huh. So maybe a microbe can finally force our hands on healthcare.
How about our hygiene, post-COVID-19? Will we collectively have cleaner hands at least, going forward? Will any of us be caught without a container of hand sanitizer on our person or in our car?
A cleaner, more environmentally conscious, healthier population—maybe these takeaways are some of the big wins on the other side of this nightmare.
And then there is the gratitude, giant helpings of it.
When I struck out with Scout-the-Goldapeake-Retriever for an afternoon walk one day last week, cars were queued up on either side of our street festooned with cheerful painted slogans and balloons, getting ready to caravan past the home of a local matriarch who was celebrating her 103rd birthday (Great-Grandmother—Twice! one poster read.) Who will ever take granted a birthday celebration again? (And who among us won’t pause first and think about keeping a safe distance from the vulnerable elderly folks we’re celebrating?)
And how about routine maintenance—a trip to the dentist to get your teeth cleaned? Or a visit to the stylist for a haircut, a thing so many of us would appreciate right about now.
What about enrichment—going to the ballet or the symphony or theatre? Those are luxuries for most of us in the first place, and I love that so many arts outlets have brought their work right into our living rooms (and thus made it accessible to many who might otherwise miss out), but I yearn to sit in the mezzanine of a grand theatre and experience the palpable thrill of that moment when the house lights go down and the spot shines on the conductor in the pit and the applause falls silent for the first note in the overture before the curtain opens.
Other folks simply miss seeing <insert sport here> in their favorite venue—will that ever look the same again?
When those days finally dawn, I can’t help but imagine a new sense of gratitude will well up in each of us for experiencing the people and events in our lives in ways we once took for granted.
For our part, The Chef and I, we’re grateful still to be gainfully employed, keenly aware there are no guarantees in life. We shall miss our annual trip down South this summer, furloughed as it is by a virus. A certain young man is especially wistful right now because of that, and will just have to be patient a while longer. Meanwhile we’ll keep on living one week to the next, thankful as ever to remain healthy for the time being, and curious as ever to know how life will look once we make it to the other side.