Since March 10th, the myriad of emotions and states of mind I’ve experienced exceed anything I’ve been through in a year. Maybe more. I’m stir crazy. I’m bored. I miss… so much. Variety. I miss variety in my days. While it’s hard to believe it’s been almost two months, I realize, because one day is exactly like the next, that that kind of monotony and solitude have the unreal ability of making time stand still.
I live near Seattle, and I work in the county to the north where the first COVID19 case in the U.S. was confirmed. It was a strange feeling to know I was living in the country’s first hotspot. At the time, everything was business as usual, which made it seem all the more strange, given the stories from China, Italy, South Korea and Spain. Then, a co-worker and his wife tested positive. The office was closed and the directive to self isolate came swiftly and decisively. A week later, WA State shut everything down.
But, who cares, right? It’s temporary. A coupl’a weeks. A really weird circumstance, but, honestly? It is not that dreadful. To have two weeks to play at being the sought-after professional who makes their own rules and works from a home office? How fun! So, sure. Whatever. Let’s hunker down. Lets shop for groceries as if the snow storm of the decade is forecast. Make all our favorite meals and desserts. Step outside and take a deep breath and marvel at the empty streets. Anyone can make the best of things for a couple of weeks, especially if they aren’t actually homebound by 3-foot drifts of snow. Or, confronted with homeschooling. Or cooped up with a partner, spouse and restless children. Or laid off or furloughed. It’s the best of all worlds.
Then the mandates are extended and two weeks turns into a month, and then another month, and now, the end of May. Parks are closed. Events are cancelled. Shopping centers are shuttered. Businesses close and jobs are lost so suddenly, it is as if they were hit by a massive nuclear bomb. Masks go from being declared of no use to mandatory. Tempers rise. The conflict between life versus livelihood takes on a mythical, almost epic gravitas. Healthcare workers break corporate rules and speak out about the horror show they are living. The need is yesterday, but our bureaucracies are not built for crisis management. By the time the relief fund or the medical supplies are finally in someone’s hands, it is too little, and way too late.
Even a walk in your neighborhood is a stresser. Mine in the park across the street has become an irritating cross between a game of wack-a-mo and an obstacle course, as you weave and bob around people and dogs and blissfully unconscious children running this way and that, trying to anticipate where the next encounter will pop up. Same goes for a trip to the grocery store.
So, the frightened and defiant stage protests. Leaders devolve into pissing matches. Politicians duke it out with scientists. Normally, this would be considered more of the same infuriating postering, but with what is actually at stake, it plays out as a clear and present danger. The stress of it all begins to dull and crack the gloss of your initial child’s play. It’s no longer a fun snow day.
All this came into play just after one of my family groups was bowled over by their own crisis. A relative, diagnosed in January with an aggressive cancer, was transported in an emergency air lift to an ICU unit the next state over, just as all of this hit. For various non-covid, but legitimate reasons, their spouse could not leave home to be with them. Then the shelter in place orders came down, making it impossible to consider travel. So family is forced to stay away, for fear of bringing the virus with them and infecting the others. The pressure and panic of it all proved too much. A very real, truly frightening meltdown takes place. The whole thing a horrible and gut wrenching drama.
I appreciate stories of people helping people during this universal crisis, pitching in where they can. But, to me, after all the emotions I’ve cycled through these past weeks, seeing people standing in doorways each night to applaud first responders, or leaving messages of encouragement with teddy bears in windows, or putting Christmas lights back up, or flying banners that read “We Got This!” seem naive and trite.
So, I take a deep breath and turn inward. I have to “fake it until I make it” in order to accept the audacity of hope that all will be fine, some day. Otherwise, I’m afraid I’ll start to wane. I have to make myself smile: At that banner with words of encouragement, waving in the warm breeze. At the sign in the window made by a child’s hand in colorful crayon. At the odd sight in April of a lighted snowman and Santa Claus in the front lawn.
As I write this, I sit on my couch, gazing out the window, grateful that Mother Nature has awakened from her winter’s nap. A bright yellow daffodil, brilliant purple tulip and a sunny afternoon go a long way to lift a spirit.
I take another deep breath…
The phone rings with the call that my family member succumbed to their cancer, peacefully passing Sunday morning. There cannot be any gathering to honor their life, acknowledge their passing, nor bring comfort to the grieving.