We are memory collectors. Memories shape the narratives of our lives. They shape our understanding of ourselves, others, and the world. Memories contain stories as well as the full range of emotional experience. Memories hold our humanity.
Because most of us have never experienced anything in our lives like the COVID-19 pandemic, we are uniquely attuned to collecting memories during this time.
Someday, when we get the luxury of looking back on these days of COVID-19, there will be a lot of pain and sadness. Many people are losing their lives to this virus and many more people are at the end of their fraying ropes as they give their all to try to save the lives of those infected. No one would ever describe the Covid-19 pandemic as a “good time.” But good, memorable times can be found in any time of our lives. Maybe, even especially, in the dark ones.
One dark time I went through was postpartum depression. Those days were painful and full of struggle. When I recall those days, I don’t recall much “good” about them. But you know what? I also MISS the middle-of-the-night breast feeding sessions where I would watch some great Netflix series. I remember how quiet the world seemed in those early morning hours and how that time spent nursing my baby and watching Breaking Bad, felt enjoyable.
Positive memories can literally be as simple as middle-of-the-night Netflix binge episodes.
Though I don’t want to advocate for chronic mindless tv gazing, I just want highlight how access to positive experiences can be that simple. However, there are more valuable ways to create positive memories for ourselves during difficult times.
Here’s some ways we can insert positive memories into this uniquely difficult time:
- Slow down. An unexpected gift offered during this pandemic is the opportunity to slow down. When we are so busy running through our days and our busy schedules, we don’t collect meaningful memories. As we slow down, we can see more opportunities around us to make memory. Let’s take advantage of this time to slow down and notice, be present, and actively engage in our lives and with those we love, in meaningful ways.
- Create them! When life isn’t offering positive experiences, it’s our job to build them ourselves. These don’t have to be momentous. In fact, thinking on too-big of a scale, can interfere with the simple creativity that generating positive experiences requires. Like I mentioned above, this can be as simple as watching an enjoyable Netflix series. Recently my family and I pulled out neglected board games and I’m enjoying beating my kids at Dominos. My 10-year-old and I started our own book club and together we are reading one of my childhood favorite books: Where the Red Fern Grows.
- Engage your senses. We remember things more profoundly when we can engage more than one of our senses. Create a soundtrack of good songs to play in your house during this time. Try new yummy recipes. Then when you think of COVID-19 days, you may also remember singing the Hamilton Soundtrack in your kitchen as you pull warm, homemade cinnamon buns out of the oven. Engage your sense of touch by bringing out a soft, cozy blanket to snuggle under while you read or watch TV. Wherever you are, try to tune into the experience of the moment offered from the perspective of other senses. While watching the sunset is incredible, notice how the wind feels on your face, or how the birds sing goodnight to each other. Notice how nice the air smells free of pollution since very few cars are on the roads these days!
- Make meaningful moments. Meaningful moments don’t have to be big. For example, one memory I already treasure from this time, is teaching my 10-year-old how to sew masks. We made homemade masks for several of our elderly neighbors and delivered the masks to them for Easter. Giving service and connecting to others is a quick way to create meaning for yourself. Even though we have to be more creative right now, the world is in desperate need of service and connection! How simple and yet profound are the stories of people cheering from apartment balconies for healthcare workers leaving the hospital between shift changes?
- Where possible, make memories with others. We are social critters and tend to enjoy the company of others. In the company of others, we also create more memories. While being socially responsible and maintaining appropriate distances, try to spend time with friends and family. This can be done through media like Zoom calls. Maybe you can even play games, long-distance. Or maybe you can meet in a parking lot and sit on top of your cars (at least six feet apart from each other) and talk. Again, we might need to be more creative, as we protect ourselves and others from getting sick, but it’s not impossible to be together…even if the physical distance is larger.
- Make a mental highlighter. What we pay attention to, is what we remember. Start tuning into the small, everyday moments. Maybe take a few minutes each day to write in your journal about moments during the day that struck you, or that you want to remember. Take out your camera, or your phone, and snap some photos. Make a photo album from this Quarantine Life. Collect funny or inspirational memes shared between you and friends. Maybe memes about toilet paper. Maybe you can collect news stories at the local, national, and international level that highlight the goodness and connection between people during this pandemic.
I don’t want to minimize that this is a very difficult time for many of us. I want to validate that struggle while also honing in what we can control, in this uncontrollable time. I believe in the power of beauty and meaning that be found in dark days. Even joy. I hope we can each collect some positive memories during this COVID-19 pandemic. When we look back on this time, we will smile at our resilience and strength, and even feel some nostalgia for some of the moments we create.