long ships.jpg

I became interested in the Vikings while reading a book called “The Long Ships,” by Frans Gunnar Bengtsson, published in 1941.

I asked friends this week what they’ve learned during the pandemic.

One of the things I’ve learned is the value of identifying a problem and considering solutions beyond the obvious. For example, someone asked this week why we had several fans in our home. The answer is easy — cold calls me. Simply put, I like to be at least five degrees cooler than the rest of my family. I used to crank the air-conditioning and freeze my family throughout the year. However, I took a cue from Jimmy Carter, who in 1977 in response to the energy crisis, told the nation to, “Put on a sweater.”

Carter’s suggestion continues to be a fitting solution to problems beyond temperature. Why change the whole lot when what matters is changing one thing?

On a completely different note, during the pandemic, I’ve realized that I knew almost nothing about Vikings. I’ve started learning about them for fun. The Vikings were busy from 789 until 1066, when William the Conqueror, a descendant of the Scandinavian invaders, won the Battle of Hastings. The Vikings founded Dublin, Ireland. They raided most of the coastal ports between their home and Constantinople. They sailed to America 500 years before Christopher Columbus. Until now, I had never connected the dots of why the northwestern coast of France is called Normandy — because the Vikings (from the North, with their Norse gods) settled there and controlled it. I became interested in the Vikings while reading a book called “The Long Ships,” by Frans Gunnar Bengtsson, published in 1941. It’s a long book, but I’ve loved it.

I have also recognized the value of a daily walk — no matter the temperature. A long walk is like meditation for me. It gets me outside. It breaks up the circle of worry and work. A long walk has helped me keep a positive perspective.

I asked friends what they’ve learned during the pandemic — as in new skills or new realizations. Their answers humbled and inspired me. Here’s a sampling:

Tony Davoren, in Sunset (originally from Ireland and likely has some of the aforementioned Viking blood), said he’s learned the importance of looking inward and blocking out the macro. He said focusing on blocking out massive amounts of external interference in the form of international/national news and focusing on our local area helped. He said he and his family have focused on a micro level on their mental health, needs, and exponentially what we can do to help ourselves, in all areas including consumption, finances, education and growth.

“Sounds like a load of bollix but that was pretty much our game plan,” he wrote. “Learn, educate, evolve, survive and repeat.”

Diane Kleinman in Fort Worth said that she’s learned she prefers books to television. Here are a few favorites: “The Which Way Tree” by Elizabeth Crook, “Hamnet “by Maggie O’Farrell, “Valentine” by Elizabeth Wetmore, “The Nickel Boys” by Colson Whitehead, “Ordinary Grace” by William Kent Krueger, “There There” by Tommy Orange and “And Then There Were None” by Agatha Christie.

Mary Margaret Sabatier, in Lafayette, says she’s learned how to put together a complete electrical system to wire an RV.

“It’s all about the lithium battery and inverter capacity, baby,” she said.

Kacey Keeton in Montgomery, Ala. said she’s learned the art (and science) of sourdough breadmaking, making curd and clotted cream.

Fay Trippet Rata, in Waco, Texas, has honed her birding skills, which started before the shutdown.

“I made a goal to make a birding list every day (online via eBird),” she said. “When the pandemic hit and all my birding events and trips were cancelled, I had to bird just in my area/county. This has helped me learn when birds migrate and are in my area and get to know them on a deep level.”

She just recorded day #346 in a row and has seen 303 species this year.

Ashley Riley in Youngsville said that she’s learned to appreciate the beauty in little things often taken for granted in a busy, everyday life.

“Make moments special, even if it’s just for you. Pour water into a fancy glass (or wine if it’s that time of day). Set your table with your good china and light a bunch of tea lights,” she said.

Andrew Downs, an Episcopal priest in Terre Haute, Ind., said he’s learned that making friends takes work (regardless of a pandemic).

“And when people want to be your friend,” he said, “you should take the opportunity.”

Wise words indeed.

Personally, I’m grateful for friends, their wisdom and the good 2020 has brought. This time will continue to shape our lives and generations to come.

Even in this dire time, focusing on the good helps.

And you? What have you learned during this pandemic?

Email Jan Risher at janrisher@gmail.com.