St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman stood on the stage of an auditorium on the campus of the University of St. Thomas about four years ago. The former mayor and other city officials were giving the first public presentation of a plan to develop the old Ford site, two miles south of my home. They took turns offering rationales for the single biggest development project in the city’s history.
One of Coleman’s comments has stayed with me. He described the project as “our everything.” Development of the site would increase affordable housing stock. It would expand businesses and jobs. It would transform the 125-acre manufacturing site into a vibrant asset. It would add green space and manage runoff to Hidden Falls. And—ding ding ding—it would generate $2 million in tax revenue a year.
For as locked down, restricted, and abnormal as life has been this past year, I keep coming back to Coleman’s words. Our everything. Haven’t we been crushed by the burden of everything? The mounting deaths. The long-simmering racism that came to a full boil last May, when George Floyd died at the hands of the Minneapolis police. The California fires. Our warming planet. An election challenged by lies and a bloated ego. Our democracy tested by those who wave the American flag but had never been inside the U.S. Capitol until January 6. The frantic pursuit to secure appointments for vaccinations.
As William Wordsworth famously wrote, “The world is too much with us.”
The pandemic turned Coleman’s mantra into our meme. It’s been a year when ‘everything,’ while too much, also became our new normal. It’s been a year of living in perpetual crisis or near-crisis mode, at an intensity we’ve felt helpless to ease. I stopped writing. I couldn’t concentrate on what a few months earlier had given me great satisfaction, not to mention structure to my day. Instead restlessness overcame me and sent me down a rabbit hole.
I started house projects that I’d long considered but had always found reasons to delay. Now, they were my obsession. I had the floors refinished. I had work done on my fireplace. I ordered new furnishings.
I was desperate to beat the world’s ‘everything’ with my own. I tried to convince myself that I hadn’t lost all perspective. I’d laugh off the changes when describing them to others, blaming it on COVID and being stuck at home with nothing better to do. Heck, everyone else was doing the same thing. I’ve done my part in hosing up the global supply chain.
As a former project manager, I’m a kind of everything person. I like nothing better than to seize a task and bird-dog it to completion. Such a singular focus on a task is annoyingly satisfying. But it can also blind me. Having nearly exhausted myself from considering what throw pillows will look good in my living room, I finally acknowledged what’s behind this everything way of thinking.
Remodeling has given me temporary relief but did little to address the deeper diagnosis that it’s simply been hard to function, especially for those of us who live alone. All these changes to my environment have amounted to what King Lear called “sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
On March 11, 2021, one year to the day the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a global pandemic, I received my first shot of the vaccine. Unlucky at lotteries, I waited, finally showing up for the appointment I’d made a month earlier. Unexpectedly, I felt a sense of relief, relief I can only attribute to having survived everything this past year.
When it’s safe for us to gather, come on over. Feel free to comment on the changes in my house, admire them or shake your head, but let’s not dwell on them. More than anything I want to see you in the flesh, read the smile play across your face, hear your words fill up the empty corners of the room, share heartaches and joys, give you a hug.
Anything to remind me that being connected is our everything.