I was thinking about all the changes we go through in life and how long it takes us to make the changed life our ordinary life. It takes on average 66 days for a person to adopt a habit such as ‘no sugar in tea’ or ‘write 3 pages every morning’. I suppose it takes at least that long for us to become settled in a new job, to adapt to married life, having a new baby or relocating to a new country. If we choose to make the changes I think it would be easier to adjust to them.
However, if the change is forced on us by situations like war, hunger, displacement, illness or the death of a close relative it could take a long time to make a new life. In our mind we may linger longer in old familiar territory, maybe isolated by language and culture, afraid to normalize the changed life.
The Covid pandemic was something we didn’t choose and everyone has their own experience of it. It was not a good thing but good flowed out of the way we dealt with it and the cooperative effort that produced vaccines. Restrictions on travel and moving about were difficult for many, many people. They were imposed at a time when I had to curtail my activities for other reasons. I take no pleasure in other people’s discomfort but I would have felt more isolated at home if everybody was flying about the world. With other people in the same boat it was easier for me to accept my restrictions as ordinary life. A sad downside to the restrictions was no visitors to people at home. We are advised that Covid will be with us for the foreseeable future and vaccines will give us some immunity. We’ll incorporate it into our ordinary life like the common cold.
Barring extraordinary adversity we expand our lives during the first half. We grow our careers, make new friends, make new families, raise children, get a bigger house and car, travel and acquire all the accoutrements considered desirable in the society in which we make our ordinary life.
In the second half we tend to prune back some of the superfluous growth. We may winnow out some activities that take too much of our energy such as full-time work or strenuous physical activity, sometimes for health reasons. Ordinary life has losses but we want to avoid losing the connections that make us happy.
We reorient ourselves to fill our needs, desires and dreams for the road we’re on at the moment. Life in the second half can be a slower adventure with many wiggly paths to traverse. The new normal can be planned to avoid things too challenging and too boring and a livewire could still experience ‘life’s great feast’ in nibbles rather than gulps.
Solitude has made people more introspective but a social life is equally important. Paying attention to a friend and receiving attention from them is health-giving for both. I went to a lunchtime concert on Tuesday at St. Nicholas Church that was attended by people of all ages from a baby in a pram to many with walking sticks. The ConTempo Quartet played Jean Sibelius Voces Intimae (Inner Voices) composed in 1909 for string quartet. Sibelius was so pleased with his work that he wrote to his wife to say, ‘it is the kind of thing that brings a smile to your lips at the hour of death’. Finland was in a struggle for independence from Russia at the time. The concert was a celebration for Finland. The Guest Speaker was Ulla Hokkanen, Executive Director of Galway Community Circus.
I never heard what Rip Van Winkle felt like when he awoke but it felt great to me to be in the middle of that audience again.