Today, I encountered a gorgeous northern water snake swimming up a creek. I had the day off from work, but didn’t want to spend hours holed up at home, so I decided to grab my lunch and head to the park for a solo picnic. I hopped in my car for the fifteen minute drive to Main Street, parked outside the courthouse, and wandered into the park with my shrimp bowl and soda in hand. I walked around the perimeter path, past families on the playground and retirees meeting up for a walk, until I reached a stone table along the creek bed that borders the far end of the park. I ate there, watching the snake swimming in the creek and the people walking by. As I sat there, I felt a calm like none I had experienced in the last few years.
Anyone who has been through high school, especially in the last few decades, knows the pressures of trying to get good grades and get into the right college. Sometimes these pressures can cause stress so immense that you cannot possibly focus on anything else, and it becomes impossible to take time to just be without thinking about the next project, the next plan, the next step towards your goals. When I was in 11th grade, this caused me to become so anxious that I ended up in counseling as a result of stress-related eating difficulties. I was so anxious that I could not eat. Although I eventually made it through that particular struggle, I had still not had an opportunity to exist outside the bounds of this environment. After deciding to take a gap year this year, I had ideas of what I could do that would make me more prepared for college or prepare me for my career, but as a result of the pandemic, I ended up working in retail. Although I have new plans for the spring, my fall has mostly been work and, more recently, volunteering at Carolina Wildlife Center, a local rescue. This has afforded me the chance to have days like today, where I could just exist and experience.
Beyond the horrors of the pandemic, I believe that one of the bright sides has been that people have been able to experience life without some of the pressures we have become used to. In many ways, we have been given a glimpse of what life could be like if we didn’t have such a culture of constant work without reward. Today at the park, I saw a family at the playground. The little kids were running around with Mom while the oldest sister and Dad sat at the picnic table, working on her virtual school work on her school laptop. Every so often, they would get up and join them. I can only imagine how much better the world would be if every so often, we got up from our work, not worrying about the status of our next assignment, but about the status of our soul.