Being Your Best

fall scene

On Thursday nights, my middle child has ballet classes and my youngest heads to soccer. Her dad drives her, staying to watch, and the dog goes along for a walk.

Which leaves me completely, deliciously, unbelievably alone for a full hour-and-a-half.

It seems crazy that I am so thirsty for this sip of quiet. But I am.

Not so long ago I rattled around for hours each day inside my empty house. My husband rushed to work every morning. The kids all left for school. And I settled in to my routine of writing and housework and whatever the day demanded. The stillness created space for me to unspool my thoughts and plans.

Sure, after a holiday when the house had been filled with our favorite foods and family traditions, I missed the good times once we had all gone our separate ways.

But mostly, the silence nourished me. It gave me the stores of patience and perspective I needed for when everyone tumbled back together. After a day alone, I was ready to dispense hugs and wisdom and Spanish test questions and reminders to clean out lunchboxes.

Which is the very definition of an introvert, right? Someone who grows stronger from time in reflection and feels worn down after hours spent with others.

And yet, before COVID reordered everything, I never even realized I had this need to be alone.

I had spent decades sharing my spaces with sisters and roommates, writing in distracting computer labs and newsrooms rife with interruptions. Then I raised three littles who were around, under foot, in need, always.

I was certainly aware that I felt cranky and overtired and snappier than I wanted to. I just didn’t know how to fix it.

I had coping techniques that allowed me to achieve certain goals. For years I rose early to write in quiet. When the kids were young, I sent them out of the house every Saturday, ostensibly so I could clean. I can now see that I vacuumed to recharge.

If, at any moment before the last few weeks, however, you had asked me: What’s the one thing you need to feel like you can handle the hard parts of your day? I couldn’t have answered. For some people, it’s sleep. For others, prayer or exercise or yoga or touching base with a loved one. 

It has taken a pandemic to point out that I need an hour of alone every day. Alone — without an agenda, without a to-do list, without a book even.

Now I can see clearly: After a day of bouncing between conducting phone interviews and making flu shot appointments and showing up to Zoom meetings and pulling out leftovers for lunch and posting on Instagram and seeing what the puppy needs and dashing off a few paragraphs and switching the laundry and hurrying to get dinner on the table, I desperately, viscerally need to stand in the sinking sunlight and breathe in the scent of dried leaves and just be.

And that’s okay.

In fact, it’s so simple.

Now that I know, I can ask for it.

Much has been written about how this pause has allowed us to reflect on what’s truly important. For me, it took a sudden shakeup to prompt the question: What makes you feel healthy, strong, fed?

I’ve spend so much of my life pondering my next move, working to create a map of the steps I needed to get there, that I never wondered: What are the ingredients that make the recipe of me taste right?

So, in these waning days of fall, I am asking you: What helps you be your best self? What keeps you grounded and makes you resilient? What’s the one thing that helps you keep at bay the worry and the sadness and the impatience? Maybe having to rethink every step of your world has shown what that is, maybe you knew all along, maybe you have been too overwhelmed to consider it.

In any case, I hope you find what feeds you and partake of it on the regular and feel better for doing so.

I’m just starting to see how helpful this can be.

Published by christinanifong

A writer of stories. About kale and turnips. Seeds and dirt. And, you know, life. Find essays, recipes and writing samples at christinanifong.com