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One Friday afternoon long ago, I sat in my office listening to a coworker worry about her Disney family trip that Monday. With all the news about coronavirus, she was starting to think a giant theme park might not be such a great idea. I told her she might not even have a choice. We left the office an hour later, then an email went out.

It was the last time I ever saw her.

In the days since March 5th, 2020, I’ve been into work exactly four times.

I went from never using Skype, to practically living on Zoom. I sold my car. My daughter’s high school graduation was essentially a drive-in movie, then her entire college freshman experience unfolded in her mother’s home office. I discovered clothes can be worn multiple times before washing. My family watched all 143 episodes of the Gilmore Girls, then (I’m not making this up)… we watched them all over again.

I’m one of the lucky ones: not on the front-lines, good medical care, able to work remotely in an “essential” job. I found out I can tolerate just about anything provided I get a steady supply of three things: internet, alcohol, and Netflix. Streaming keeps me entertained. Wine numbs the feeling of isolation. Bezos brings me anything else I need.

Truthfully, being out of the mix has been a great gift. It allowed me to discover things I should have been doing all along. And as I reflect on 2021, I can even rank some of the things that have helped me feel more in control.

5. Giving away stuff I don’t need.

Lockdown forced me to stare every day at the unpacked stacks of boxes that followed us from our last home, fossilized evidence of a lifelong consumption orgy. Our finished basement, big enough to house a family of four, a space that begged to become my teenager’s party hangout or my football refuge (or both) was just a musty cardboard warehouse to be avoided.

Liposuctioning our house was transformative. My wife discovered Facebook Marketplace and one stranger after another magically appeared in the driveway to take away the unwanted things. Every week I strategically packed the overstuffed recycling bin. Goodwill and Savers happily accepted several carloads.

And while the idea of finally getting that football den was joyous (Chicago Bears fans are prohibited from simultaneously experiencing joy and football), the best part came from being able to easily find the few things each day that I actually do need.

4. Investing big in a few key relationships.

Being isolated made me miss people. But it wasn’t parties or big social gatherings that I missed. It was the long, animated, unpredictable live conversations with a few specific people, usually with a glass of wine or two (when the presence of company blurs my wife’s uncanny ability to monitor my intake), bouncing in and out of the house, the patio or around the pool. As day becomes night, the right song seems to be playing and the chatter around the firepit makes everybody forget what time it is.

We’ve had a lot less of that since COVID.

I’m always late to jump on new technology. In that period of extreme solitude I finally embraced FaceTime (yea, way late!). Then I even got my jitterbug flip-phone mom onto it. Seeing her now so often has brought us much closer than at any time since I was a kid. I also started reaching out to a few long-lost friends. A few random texts evolved to phone calls, then to a few in-person visits from friends who ended up vectoring my way.

I’m always up for hanging out, telling jokes, and doing the conversation dance, exaggerating my life accomplishments (or ranting about the Bears). But what I really want now is for the chance to fully know and accept another person, with all of the good and the bad included… and for that person to fully know and accept me the same way. That… well, that’s way more intoxicating than the wine.

3. Divesting from national politics.

After nearly two years of overdosing on political news, I’m convinced that Donald Trump should either 1) be locked in a dungeon, gagged and strapped to a furniture dolly, or 2) have his face jackhammered into Mount Rushmore. Liberals and conservatives both make pretty loud cases.

It’s depressing watching our democracy being driven further and further off-road by two political corporations staffed by loyal, hand-picked salesmen. Most voters just throw up their hands and choose a side, resigned to the idea that things will probably only get worse. Until we all stop letting Coke and Pepsi decide for us, it will. As for all the political chaos today, Trump isn’t the problem. He’s the problem’s result.

This year I paid closer attention to local issues. I met and engaged my congressman (who I voted for). The experience was, well… underwhelming. A town hall I took my daughter to was hijacked by a gang of conspiracy-theorists demanding to know why our state wasn’t sending a delegation to the My Pillow-guy South Dakota cyber clown show. The experience of seeing regular, hard-working, decent people going completely mental kinda freaked us out.

Following politics today is like watching a slow-motion car wreck, frame-by-frame. You really shouldn’t watch it, but you probably will.


2. Ingesting healthier things.

Early on there were no restaurant options, and we would mask/glove up and go on the essential weekly trip to forage at the depleted local Stop & Shop. We started eating the food that came with the house. Preparing 100 percent of our own food made us more conscious of the food itself.

We watched countless documentaries on food. In the years since Supersize Me, there’s a lot more convincing information out there that society’s addiction to animal products is driven mainly by the profitable, mature industries that have formed around them. It’s challenging to sit down and work out a meal plan for the week when almost everything you can think of to eat includes red meat or chicken.

Driving down the street, it feels like it’s literally raining red meat and chicken. *driving* I’m hungry (realization) oh, there’s a Wendy’s (solution) pick a number (pictures make it easy) “two #6s, large diet coke” (fewest voice-strokes) window 1/window 2 (card sweep) – done! Ninety seconds from the notion of hunger to a warm bag of tinfoiled meat, cheese, salt and grease in my lap makes the glands in my neck tickle. Absent that daily commute, I successfully broke this little cycle.

Despite a big reduction in my daily physical activity, I lost maybe 10 pounds last summer without setting out to. I also felt better. I learned that things like diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease and most other related conditions literally reverse themselves if you go totally plant-based. Vegan athletes report measurable improved performance. Even ED can be cured (wife says jury’s still out).

The idea of adjusting what you ingest to get healthy goes beyond food. I started reading a lot more than I had when I was constantly on the go. I also discovered podcasts. Some of those long FaceTime chats I had with old friends invariably turned political. They forced me to defend my own beliefs more carefully, and to consider the opinions of others more sincerely. I put aside Rachel Maddow and tried to follow how nutcases like Ben Shapiro and Larry Elder think. My daughter (a real leftie’s leftie) would emerge from the office upstairs and we’d debate Which Lives Matter or Why Pronouns Matter or What Savior Matters, and I would enjoy arguing multiple sides of these issues with her.

I found this journey strengthened my evolving opinions on many things.

Winning an argument is far less important than believing something you know to be true because you took the time to discover the truth for you, which segways nicely into my No. 1 discovery…..

1. Retaking control of my thoughts.

Taking control… of what you think, what you do, what you eat, who you let into your life, what you are going to make happen next. Our thoughts, they’re the atomic particles of it all. When

we get control of our thoughts, we feel the right way. We pick the right friends. We eat better. We don’t get sucked into dysfunction.

Everyday society uses the power of technology to wrestle that control from us all. Information now literally streams into us constantly. If we succumb, we become zombies. Let’s not succumb.

Technology is a tool. Use it for the amazing tool that it is, not a support system. Don’t hook up to it and give it control over what to eat or who to like or how to vote. If everyone did this, we’d cure hoarding and solve hunger and health care and break our carbon addiction. The truly righteous would get elected. BEARS WIN SUPER BOWL! (whoa…carried away)

Devin Householder

Devin is passionate about writing, reading and remaining in emotionally harmful relationships with losing sports teams. He suffers quietly (except on Sundays) with his loving wife and daughter in Rhode Island.

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