In pre-pandemic life, many of us would have loved a “stay-at-home” order. Mandated to cancel plans, quit the commute, wear sweatpants all day: what a dream! No loss, just reprieve. A break for the weary.
The real thing, though, is somewhat different. We don’t get to decide when it’s over. We don’t get to feel our internal clock go off and say, “okay, time to get back out there!” We don’t get to just return to the world when we’re ready.
As the long-term realities set in, things that used to seem mundane take on yearning. Picking up your morning coffee, small talk at work, running to the store without a passing thought. Being without these should be trivial, we tell ourselves. It’s just Starbucks, it’s just a quick hello with someone in the office kitchen, it’s just dinner out. Yet the feelings might not be so trivial.
Maybe you miss sitting in a coffee shop, simply in the presence of others, reading a book. While watching Netflix from quarantine, you see someone in a show casually hanging out sipping espresso as people bustle around, as if it’s no thing. In a split second, you’re recalling the sights, smells, textures, the solitude and yet togetherness of the setting, the familiarity of ritual in returning to your favorite chair. And with those sensations comes the ache of their absence.
Being without this for a time might not be the end of the world. In the grand scheme of things, with everything that’s going on, it may not rise to a level that you would deem “important.” But, it’s not meaningless. It does matter. Right now, something is out of reach. More than something, a lot of things. And when you add them all up, you might be missing a lot right now.
Missing hurts, but it’s not all bad. We miss because we love. And love benefits us, even when what we love isn’t available. Even in absence, we maintain relationships with these experiences inside ourselves. Through missing them, we have access to recollections of sensation, feeling, meaning. These things go on nourishing us from within.
And we go on being who we are, the people who love what we love.
If you love to travel, then you love it even when you can’t do it. What matters to you in traveling is important to who you are. Maybe you crave novelty. Maybe you love history. Maybe you value challenging one’s own perspective. Maybe you hope to live an eventful life. Removing the option to travel right now is a loss, but it doesn’t take those aspects of yourself away from you. Who you are remains.
If you’re missing the world right now, some things to consider:
1. Let it matter. Many of us struggle to let “small” things matter. As if to do so robs something bigger of meaning. “It’s not as important as xyz,” we say, as if to imply, “therefore it’s meaningless.” But our lives, and the world, are filled with meaning of all kinds. Missing your routines, quotidian pleasures, the shape your life took before now, gets to matter too, without stealing importance from anything else.
2. Name it. When you find yourself missing something, take a moment to identify and name it. Maybe you’re missing the coffee shop, but inside of that, what you’re yearning for is community. Solitude. Freedom. Comfort. Pleasure. Relaxation. Labeling experience can help us make sense of things, identify what’s important to us, and find aspects of those things in other places where we can.
3. Find comfort in discomfort. Maybe you practice mindfulness and have some experience allowing discomfort to come and go. Perhaps you hold gratitude to remind you, in the face of absence, that there is also abundance. Or maybe when you’re sad, you reach out for comfort from others. Whatever works for you, finding ways to bear the ache of missing allows more access to the nourishing parts: the experience, the meaning, the you being you, loving what you love.
4. Recognize seasons. Some things we get to do all year round, while others are available only sometimes. If you are a lover of seasonal activities like going to the beach, skiing, apple-picking, growing a garden, then you know this feeling. While entering global crisis is not quite akin to the familiar changing of seasons, our experience with seasons teaches us how to miss doing things we love when it's not their time, yet go on loving them while finding other ways to enjoy and express ourselves.
5. Make it personal. We miss because we love. Think or write about what you’re missing from the perspective of what you love, and who you are because of it. What do you love about going on adventures, and how is that important to who you are, even when you can’t? How does loving museums or concerts or baseball games hold an aspect of your identity? What do you love, and how does that make you you?
6. Let yourself dream. All is not lost. Throughout our lives, we lose, and we gain. Every night, we say goodbye to the day we just had, and prepare to say hello to the one coming up. Let yourself hope. Once you feel into what you miss and why that matters to you, let yourself envision the ways in which aspects might arrive to you in new and unexpected form. We don’t know what’s coming, but we know it won’t be only loss. Things will arrive. What might they be?
How are you missing the world?