I tell everyone I won the lottery ONCE. The date was June 30, 2019; it was my official retirement date from 29 years of working at a middle school in a suburban town in Massachusetts . I was 65 and had planned for this day for many years. I retired when I planned to and was mentally and physically ready. Who knew that we would be facing a pandemic a mere nine months later? I won the lottery by leaving the profession when teaching was still in a regular school environment. I regularly check in with my colleagues, and I am unsure I can do what they are still doing two years later. So yes, I won a different kind of lottery!
I had nine months of traveling bliss following my retirement date. The next month while vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard, I met a man through mutual friends who would eventually become my boyfriend. (That story may be another article! Ha!). After that were trips to Boston, Colorado, Disney World, San Diego, Arizona, and a repeat weekend in Boston; at that weekend getaway at a hotel, I learned about an outbreak of COVID-19 discovered at another nearby hotel. The convention at that hotel where I was staying was cut short, and you know the rest.
The world came crashing down quickly. I had just gotten used to retirement travel and dating again! Fortunately for me, I had moved the year before to the first floor of a 100-year-old Victorian home in Rhode Island which had a bit of a view of the ocean. I had moved there because of the walkability of the area. There were little shops and restaurants in the village and plenty of beautiful homes and scenery. What saved me during the early weeks of COVID when businesses were closed and we were ordered to stay home was my little village community. I have a beagle, and I need to walk her daily, so she provided some company for me and an excuse to get outdoors. I was able to pass joggers and walkers and exchange a greeting. For me, someone who lives alone (except for my dog), the chance to hear a voice in person and see an individual doing something every day (even masked!) was enough to keep me sane. It was my way of socializing within the confines of a pandemic. I would sit for countless hours on my front porch and relish the chance to see people walk by or stop on the sidewalk and talk. Strangers became friends. Simple pleasures became major ones.
Isolation is one of the worst side effects of the pandemic, so forming and finding communities is essential to our well-being. As businesses eventually opened up more, I could socialize outside at the local restaurants. Yoga classes became available at the waterfront park, and by walking the village more, I continued to see more people.
These are still strategies I put into place in hopes that the worst of the pandemic will soon be behind us. Unfortunately, winter weather in Rhode Island does not afford us outdoor eating opportunities (for the most part). We are back to being masked indoors if we even go anywhere. My grandkids are in preschool, 3rd grade, and 5th grade, and I hear of their struggles with remote learning and learning at school masked and separated. I constantly marvel at my teacher friends and my daughter (who teaches second grade) for their fortitude in navigating their profession under such trying times. My heart is heavy as I know how much I loved being in the classroom and interacting with my students.
Our emotional health is being challenged as much as our physical health and will continue to be that way until this pandemic is under control. Meanwhile, we must continue to navigate making opportunities out of a bad situation. Look for some surprises in all of this!
Pat Dumas is a retired teacher living in Cranston, Rhode Island.