My friend Eugene and I were sitting around a dying campfire talking about my recent trip to Milwaukee. I complained about how something as familiar as walking into a neighborhood bar with my brother felt completely wrong.
There were only a handful of people inside, but nobody was wearing masks, keeping their distance or acting like they should do either. I wanted to stay all night and catch up, but was too uncomfortable to have more than a single drink.
“It just felt wrong,” I said. “I know better and couldn’t let myself relax.”
“I bet more of the country acts like the people in that bar than we do here,” Eugene said. “We’ve been conditioned.”
True, Portland does operate inside its own bubble in just about every way. But what exactly is “normal” anymore? These past six months have presented us with so many major changes – a global pandemic, economic uncertainty, an upcoming presidential election, civil unrest and now, unprecedented wildfires.
Will there be any normalcy to return to? Have we collectively been through too much to innocently carry on with our old ways?
I was primed for change long before Covid hit. Moving to Portland last November meant living in a new apartment, driving a new car, making new friends, adjusting to a new climate, discovering new hobbies and restructuring my daily routine after quitting my new, but already soul-sucking job in June.
For the first time in my adult life, I decided to take the summer off and enjoy the childhood pleasure of unbridled freedom. That sounds frivolous when there are so many things to be worried about. But I’ve spent enough time trapped inside my head concocting solutions to worst-case scenarios. I wanted out of the cage – literally and figuratively.
I ran long stretches of the PCT. Taught myself how to confidently ride a mountain bike. Swam in so many rivers, I became comfortable with the prospect of fish touching me. Drove to all four corners of the state. Camped in the forest, desert, mountains and river valleys. Mastered the art of the cathole. Stared into the Milky Way and wished upon shooting stars. Watched every sunrise and sunset.
I even managed to squeeze in some adult experiences. I earned a minor stress fracture from having too much fun and actually allowed myself the grace to rest while it healed. I took on a few writing gigs, built a portfolio website and did some Covid-friendly networking.
I learned to be less wasteful. To anticipate going out for a beer, getting a haircut, buying a new piece of gear. I also learned that people make me happy. The energy of a room doesn’t translate well via Zoom. Hugs are priceless exchanges of love. The eyes are powerful communicators, but I miss watching the way people’s mouths move.
Somewhere around the two-month mark, I started to understand myself a little better than before. I found the correct words to articulate my point-of-view and what I uniquely offer the world. I wrote these things down and realigned my path to them. It made me feel empowered to pursue opportunities that lead to a more meaningful existence.
Things won’t be business as usual moving forward. My next job needs to provide more than just a paycheck. I will finish what I start. I will accept rejection and the reality that I can’t always have what I want. I will champion being a human and not a machine and treat others accordingly. And above all, time should be treated as the precious commodity it is.
Systems don’t burn unless they are long-overdue for change. Let’s remember this when we’re tempted to write-off 2020 as a total loss.