Powering Down

Credit: Boston Public Library

My body went on vacation last week.

My mind, not so much.

It wasn’t surprising, really. My brain has been in a de facto state of worry and anxiety since March. Asking it to power down for a week was an ambitious prospect.

We went to my partner’s family camp on Lake Champlain, where we used to spend two weeks every summer as teenagers. High on sunshine, fresh air, and first love, we would have water splashing contests and run through train tunnels and jump off cliffs into the perfect gray-blue lake. This time, I wanted to recapture that spirit. I needed it. Needed to remember what it felt like to not be worried all the time, to wake up rested, to feel like the world was beautiful and simple, if only in my imagination.

When my partner and I cruised by the quiet granite cliffs that hug the water, they were exactly as I remembered. When we looked across the lake to the Green Mountains, that skyline whose contours I could draw with my eyes closed, I felt briefly comforted. But the nostalgia was always fleeting, just a taste of those decadent memories before my mind reverted back to worry and fear and, sometimes, numbness.

This is part of growing up and being an adult in the real world with real responsibilities. That blissful innocence of youth that gives way, suddenly yet ambiguously, to a harder reality. And this year’s reality is especially hard. There are so many overlapping crises, like a giant and cruel game of whack-a-mole. In this world of COVID-19 and police violence and climate-exacerbated natural disasters and alternative facts and unemployment (and for me, six moves since January and a cancelled wedding), vacation seems like a concept from some faraway fairytale, a luxury that no one can afford yet everyone needs.

As the days ticked by, my blood pressure decreased. I slept for ridiculously long hours and read a novel and ate a lot of dessert. We hiked a mountain that I had last visited in April, in those early, altruistic days of the pandemic, and the rhythm of feet on soft ground pulled me into something resembling more of a balance. Breathing. Walking. Breathing. Watching our dog hunt frogs on the edge of a hidden Adirondack swamp. Stepping six feet off the trail to let other hikers pass, sharing clipped smiles that communicated a sense of doing-the-best-we-can.

By the end of the week, I felt more grounded and clear-headed than I had all year. My mind still raced intermittently, but I could glimpse an ever-so-slight view of the Before Times (not that they were all rosy). I felt like I had gotten away with something, like I had slipped out the back door while the world was on fire and left other people to clean up the mess. But the week away filled me up--maybe not to full, since that seems impossible in 2020--to the point where I can look around a little more clearly and meet the next few hours, days, weeks, with a little more grace.

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