During my last year on active duty, I thought a lot about things that made me happy.
I had spent so much time being unhappy during the past ten years. So, post-Marine Corps, I wanted to focus on things that made me happy. My time in Chile showed me how unhappy I had been. It also lit a path to finding those things that made me happy.
One of those was giving back.
Some of my happiest (and most fulfilling) moments came when I was helping others. Whatever I was doing, if I felt that my actions were improving someone’s life, somewhere, I felt good. I also knew that I loved teaching. During my Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certification, I tutored and taught English to university students and to immigrants. I had so much fun.
Moving to Tampa, I knew I would have the time and the desire to teach again, so I sought volunteer opportunities to teach English. The Hillsborough County Literary Council was happy to oblige. The organization brings volunteers and students together, not only to learn English, but to teach adults how to read and write. I was shocked to discover that there are people living in 2020 who do not know how to read a newspaper or fill out a form. Their mission:
Our primary objective is to find and teach functionally and marginally illiterate persons and speakers of other languages to read, write, and speak English, and to function in the culture of the United States.
Becoming a volunteer is a two step process, first online training and then a two hour in person orientation session. Having completed this, I was looking forward to teaching! I had been matched with two students, a lady from Puerto Rico and another from Colombia. Then, COVID-19 had its way.
My point of contact at the Literacy Council had encouraged me to visit the North Tampa Library (my teaching spot), to introduce myself as a new literacy tutor. I had some books to pick up anyway, so as a midday break, I set off for the library.
Unfortunately, the meeting rooms were no longer in use. And, I could tell by the look on the librarian’s face that she knew more but was not at liberty to say. Back home a couple of hours later, I received a notification that all libraries were closed, effective immediately, for the foreseeable future.
So no tutoring anytime soon. I was sorely disappointed for my first “giving back” adventure to end before it even began. I hope to return to the library soon and begin teaching. (but very glad I picked up all my books, so I have plenty to read while ‘social distancing’!)
COVID-19 was not done yet!
My brother and I had been attending Saturday morning CrossFit sessions together. Part workout, part time together, I enjoyed it. The CrossFit gym was full of friendly and welcoming people. The instructors always offered modifications, and while they encouraged us to push ourselves, they also understood that we all came from different fitness experiences. They never pushed. As I have multiple previous injuries (thank you, United States Marine Corps), I was happy do what I felt comfortable doing.
When the governor closed all the gyms, our CrossFit gym continued to offer ‘at home’ workouts of the day (WOD). I started to visit my brother, and we developed a Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday routine. Then, the CrossFit staff sent a very cool email.
They had created a week of WODs, and were offering equipment checkout to their members. They felt strongly about the need to stay fit during this time (for mental as much as physical reasons) and they wanted to support their members. My brother pointed out that perhaps they just didn’t want to lose memberships while closed. He may be right – but I still loved the fact that they thought of this, and made the offer. I had heard about the CrossFit camaraderie and that it’s often kind of like a family. This was the first time seeing it in action.
We had such fun with our workouts this week! Jenny even joined us, and such a great way to end a day of being inside in front of a computer. We will definitely continue this for however long this lasts.
One last item before I go – the grocery store. There was a moment before everyone started working from home and ‘non-essential’ businesses shut. I remember the tipping point. I was keeping tabs on the news (though I only read BBC – American news has far too much drama for me). I knew things were getting worse, and that at some point, panic would hit.
It was a Thursday afternoon, and I thought, I better just go to the store now. So I got in my car, headed to Trader Joe’s, and proceeded to pack my refrigerator and freezer with as much healthy delectables as I could. They had already run out of many things – lemons, avocados and tofu for some reason. But I got plenty of other things, and set myself up for a couple of weeks. (and no hoarding of toilet paper for me – really, people?)
This past Thursday morning I returned, not because I had run out of anything, but because I wanted to go BEFORE I ran out. And I did not want to go over the weekend. When I arrived at 8:30 AM, I discovered that they had new hours (9 AM – 7 PM), that seniors had priority from 9 AM – 10 AM and that the staff had red tape delineating six feet of space between customers waiting in line. Only 35 people at a time could shop.
Chit-chatting with the lady in front of me, I watched as seniors kept arriving. Two lines were going – one for seniors and one for the rest of us. She and I practiced not getting upset to see our spot in line move backwards moment by moment. My mantra for this time of uncertainty and stress – “breathe and be grateful”. I was practicing a lot of “breathe and be grateful” standing in line for 45 minutes, let me tell you!
Once inside, the shopping experience proved entirely pleasant. The shelves were well stocked, though the staff requested that we only take two of any given item. I was in and out in less than fifteen minutes.
Life at home, for me, has been pleasant. An introvert, the solitude does not bother me. Having workouts with my family, and dinners on Friday evening, breaks up the monotony. I joked earlier about “breathing and being grateful”, but I am serious. I have so much to be grateful for – I am still working, and there was no transition to online work for me. Our entire company culture was already online. I have nutritious food, and a safe place to live. I have the ability to workout. I have enriching activities to keep me occupied and I am healthy. I hope the same is true for all of you. Sending love and support to everyone, and more updates next week, as I delve into my online job.