Tevye and Golde sing "Do You Love Me?" in "Fiddler on the Roof."
Tevye and Golde sing "Do You Love Me?" in "Fiddler on the Roof."

Three life lessons from sheltering in place

It’s been a hard year in oh so many ways. Now, thankfully, in most parts of the United States, we’re starting to emerge from the fear and isolation of sheltering in place. And as we do, I for one, am pausing to reflect on what I learned about myself during this time.

One “lesson” surprised me. The other two reaffirmed aspects of my life and personality. Those two lessons came as no surprise. But still, as Tevye and Golde sang in “Fiddler on the Roof,” they’re “nice to know.” In fact, they give me great pleasure.

Lesson 1: I love my husband.

Stuck in one place with one person, you quickly decide you either like or loathe that person. Happily, I rediscovered how much genuine delight I find in being with my husband of 34 years.

Pre-pandemic, Jon traveled non-stop for work. Even without the travel, we’re both work-a-holics. Busy. Separate offices. Separate deadlines. Separate stresses.

Also, we have different tastes, cultural and culinary. He likes action films. I like foreign films. Did I say he “likes” action films? Correction: He loves them. I love theater. He loves spicy Thai food. I love pastrami and knishes. After a long day working, he loves escapist TV fare (and yes, action films). I’d rather read.

So it’s mandated that we must shelter-in-place for months on end. What do you get? Shouting? Violent tugs of war over the remote control? Battles over take-out menus? No. You get a second honeymoon and more romance than any two almost-oldsters have any right to expect!

Lesson 2: An extrovert quickly can become an introvert.

Look up the word “extrovert” in the dictionary and you’ll see a picture of a Galatz. Every member of my family is outgoing. Yet, unexpectedly during the pandemic, I grew comfortable with quiet. Yes, I missed my friends, but, at the same time, I increasingly liked the solitude. I became more focused. More productive. No lunch dates meant more time for writing. No rushing to shower, tame my unruly hair, put on makeup and get out the door.  No after-lunch droopy feeling. No need to nap.

And after months of the same routine, even phone calls seemed “same old, same old.” Unless there was bad news, there was no news. So, why call? What was there to say?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m thrilled we’re all getting vaccinated and that we’ll be back in the swing of things before long, but I confess: I’m hesitant. My first social gathering was a Passover seder. Ten vaccinated buddies convened. It was e-x-h-a-u-s-t-i-n-g.

Everybody was talking at once. I couldn’t concentrate. And it lasted soooo long. A Zoom dinner wraps up in one hour. Tops! A “real” dinner goes on for hours. By the time we left, my head was spinning. I went straight to bed.

Lesson 3: New York City is still the center of my universe.

Yes, I missed going to the movies. Yes, I missed getting manicures, pedicures and massages. All those glorious girlfriend lunches. But what I missed the most — missed like what I imagine the sensation of a phantom limb feels like — were trips to the city of my birth, New York City.

I missed the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Missed walking along Fifth and Madison avenues. Missed walking by my old elementary school, PS 6, and the site of my father’s electric shop at 1204 Lexington Ave. Missed eating at Russ & Daughters. Missed family and friends. And missed, missed, missed Broadway shows. Even after all these years of not living there, the intensity of this pain surprised me.

Sheltering in place created time and space for extended reflection, like the Days of Awe on steroids! But now I’m vaccinated, and my world is opening up. I’m nervous, but I’m ready.

Today I’m venturing forth for a pedicure. Oh, the sweet luxury of sparkly toenails and smooth heels. This weekend we’re going to a restaurant for outside dining. It’s a brave newish world for same-ish me. I don’t know. I do feel a little different based on the lessons I’m still absorbing. Maybe Tevye and Golde’s song needs amending — maybe it would be nice to know.

Karen Galatz
Karen Galatz

Karen Galatz is the author of Muddling through Middle Age, a weekly humor blog. An award-winning journalist, her nonfiction and fiction essays and stories have been featured in multiple publications. She is a former resident Berkeley who now lives in Reno and can be reached at karen@muddling.me.