Life under quarantine is like one long migraine. Take it from me; I have suffered from migraines my whole life.

Migraines are painful, yes, but when such headaches are a chronic, almost daily problem, the physical discomfort is only part of the story. The real issue is that migraines limit one’s ability to live and function normally. Trying to get through the day with a bad headache means constantly asking: Ok, so what can you manage today? Swimming laps? No way. Walking around the block. Maybe. Laundry? Probably. Vacuuming? Absolutely not. Teaching five hours of lessons? Perhaps. Practicing Carmina Burana? You have got to be kidding.

Living in shutdown reminds me a bit of this. Slowly, things have been stripped from our lives. Obvious things like going out to eat or to a coffeehouse or to the yoga studio or to the gym. Going to church or to the office. Concerts. Meeting friends for dinner or drinks. Old-fashioned piano lessons in person. It’s like we are being asked over and over again: OK, so now figure out how to live a full and satisfying life without this. Or that.

Adjusting to such an altered and bare bones version of normal life would be a challenge enough, but the threat of COVID-19 brings a whole other layer of problems, anxiety and distractions. It’s hard to concentrate on anything; our bank account of self-discipline is not just empty, but overdrawn. It’s all we can do to remember to wash our hands and wear our masks and obsessively clean all the doorknobs in the house. We want to be like Shakespeare writing King Lear during the bubonic plague, but we can’t pull ourselves away from the NY Times headlines on our computer screens long enough to complete a non-coronavirus related thought, much less a sentence.

It is easy to want to throw in the towel and give up any pretense at regular routines or productivity, but then I remember: I have watered a lot of plants with a migraine. Almost always, with enough resourceful and creative thinking, there is some forward movement that can take place. As the creative guru Julia Cameron said, “You do not often need to make large changes. Large changes occur in tiny increments. It is useful to think in terms of a space flight: by altering the launch trajectory very slightly, a great difference can be made over time.” In other words, baby steps matter.

I have always wanted to learn every prelude and fugue in Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier. Even if all upcoming performing are cancelled, I can still practice Bach. The skips and jumps of Zoom piano lessons make polishing Chopin almost impossible, but I can teach scale fingerings and drill chord progressions. I can assign extra sight-reading pages and etudes and provide lists of ear tunes to be harmonized and transposed into every major key. That’s good stuff too. My swimming pool and yoga studio are closed, but I can go for long walks in foothills in the mornings and evening walks in the neighborhood while talking to my best friend in Massachusetts or my sister in California. I can’t spend hours at the local nursery puttering through rows of plants, but I can pull weeds. I can sit in the rocking chair in the corner of my living room and needlepoint a nighttime scene of a hilltop village I have named Corona. And so it goes.

Those are my good days. On other days, days when I can hardly face another hour of screens, when my attention is shot and I have lost all patience with Clorox wipes and face masks, I think about Alice Parker, the great American composer and champion of community singing. Alice has often been quoted as saying, “What kind of sound can we make, right now, right here, just us, that is exactly right for this song?” Be honest about who you are, she tells us. If you are a six-voice choir, stop trying to do eight-part choral works. Alice is a tough New Englander, stoic and endlessly hardworking even at 94. But her question asks us to consider the real limitations of our choirs, our students, our quarantined lives, and offers us some grace: What is right, right now, right here? What can we do when we are stuck at home, restless and distracted? What can we do when it is the 66th dinner in a row eaten in our own kitchen? What can we do when we have writer’s block or a lame foot or too much time and not enough focus? What if it’s a migraine day? What kind of sound can we make, right now, right here, just us, that is exactly right for this song? This day? This strange season of our lives?

For the last year I have given myself injections to help prevent migraines; a sort of migraine vaccine, if you will. After suffering under a cloud of chronic headaches for 30 years, a miracle cure seemed beyond hope; and yet, for me, this dose of antibodies designed to bolster my body’s resistance to migraines seems to be working. There is not a single headache-free day for which I am not deeply and profoundly grateful.

At random times throughout these last two months, I have found myself thinking: please let this cloistering time change us, and may we not come out of hiding the same people as when we went in. The events of the last couple of weeks have served to remind us once again that the world is broken. And yet, that isn’t the whole story. We have such an opportunity to alter our individual and collective trajectories forever, to become more resourceful and creative, more patient and kind, more forgiving of ourselves and each other. What sound can we make, right now, right here? Look closely, friends: there is grace everywhere.