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Going outside is our greatest weapon against losing our sanity, not Netflix or wine

Just strap on that mask, keep at least 6 feet away from others, and stick to your neighborhood

The Super Pink moon, rises to the east pedestrians pass by Smith Lake in Washington Park on April 7, 2020 in Denver. The Super Pink moon is the biggest and the brightest moon of 2020.
The Super Pink moon, rises to the east pedestrians pass by Smith Lake in Washington Park on April 7, 2020 in Denver. The Super Pink moon is the biggest and the brightest moon of 2020.

There’s a spot in my neighborhood where the houses part and the mountains rise. It’s almost like looking through a suburban keyhole, spying on a natural world of rock, water and sky that couldn’t feel further from the neutrally-painted wood nailed up to form the homes closing in around me. Around all of us now. For a moment, when you stumble upon that spot between all the garages and windows, you forget that what you’re doing may be dangerous.

To get to that spot, you have to be outside. Walking and breathing; perhaps encountering other walking and breathing people looking for a break or a balm. The view through that keyhole with the mountains, water and sky is the pardon to our homebound sentence, and while it’s not an answer — there are no answers to what we’re currently experiencing — it’s where our consolation lies. Outside.

I know, we’re supposed to be #stayinghome. But #stayingsane matters, too, and right now our greatest weapon against losing it completely isn’t Netflix or wine or a chocolate peanut butter cheesecake (although that’s a close second). It’s outside. It’s just getting the heck outside.

We’re all feeling anxious. Sad. Bored. Scared. Overwhelmed. We’re doing what we need to do to allow as many of us as possible to survive. That we’ve been thrust so suddenly into a time where we have to make such a concerted effort for our survival and that of others is pretty nuts to begin with, but here we are. Attempting survival by waiting inside our homes for all of this to be over. But really, go outside.

Get away from the computer, the phone, the television, the bed, the couch, the walls. Because what else can we do? In between keeping our own lives going, our own kids fed and their fears abated — while our own still are not — what else can we do? We need outside, the anti-quarantine to our pent-up, sequestered spring lives.

Here’s how to do it: Step outside and walk, run, roller skate, bike, pogo stick, sashay (please sashay) — just strap on that mask, keep at least 6 feet away from others, and stick to your neighborhood. If you’re sick, I’m sorry but your outside time is confined to your own backyard. Avoid the playgrounds and groups and gatherings and all the things we need to do to stop the virus spread and keep our community healthy. But still, go outside.

(Oh, and don’t be like the woman I encountered the other day who, when she saw people walking toward her from a distance, darted into the street in front of my car. Running blindly into streets isn’t ever a good idea, global pandemic or not.)

I enjoy watching how people do this. The nonchalant edging into gutters, stepping into yards or toward buildings, or just backing away altogether. Everyone keeping their distance. It crosses my mind: Will we continue to do this — the social distancing — after this is over? Out of habit?

Maybe our misery is compounded by the things our isolation brings up. Down our daily distractions, we’re forced to think about the unpretty feelings we’ve tried to avoid. Our own shortcomings, the doomed relationships, the people we miss, our amplified anxiety –  it’s all quarantined inside, right there with us.

Our only escape is in the hearts and Happy Birthday messages written in chalk on driveways. The painted rocks placed in yards. The teddy bears perched in windows. The 8 o’clock howl. The evidence that we’re all in this together, even if we’re not together.

We all know by now that this is serious business. It is a global pandemic that has desecrated the economy, locked up billions of people in every crevice of the globe and may kill hundreds of thousands (best-case scenario) before it’s over. When you need a little extra strength and soothing because that’s kind of a lot to deal with, I know where you can find it.

In the stages of grief, I think I’m somewhere between bargaining to regain the loss of life as I knew it — If we could just spread the tables further apart in restaurants! If they could just televise live sports without allowing in an audience! — and depression. We’re all experiencing this grief, this helplessness against something that’s mostly outside of our control. And so we go outside.

Last night, I went for a walk. I saw parents playing basketball in the driveway with their kids, neighbors hosting social distancing porch happy hours, couples walking their dogs — good, happy things like that. Still, I felt anxious. All of these disruptions to my daily life, I know they’re just the beginning, but I still can’t accept what’s to come. I haven’t yet reached the acceptance phase of grief, and the weight of knowing (or, rather, the weight of not knowing) just how bad this is all going to get is a heavy one.

And then I reached the keyhole, where the houses part and the mountains rise. I looked up and saw that the sky was still there, which seemed surprising, but comforting. I forgot that some people believe that it’s safer inside, not out.

I decided to walk a little further. I chose outside.

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