Mid-March to mid-June, we stayed at home, limited our outings to the most essential and basic of needs, fretted about availability of food and household supplies, gasped as the numbers of sick and dying increased, debated the wearing of face masks outdoors while exercising, read attentively and often from health and medical experts about the progression of the novel corona virus disease, and increased our use of social media and screen time exponentially. My weekly appointments were either indefinitely canceled or switched to Zoom sessions. Trips were erased, flights canceled, visits put on hold. I talked to friends who lived mere miles away by FaceTime. My husband stocked our cabinets with beans, rice, oatmeal, dried fruit, and chocolate chips, food we rarely eat in normal times; the freezer is packed with protein, vegetables, and fruit. We are prepared for months of supply chain disruption and limited availability of food stuffs. We scrambled for toilet paper and household supplies, anticipating that our grandchildren might be here for weeks while their preschool was closed and their parents were working remotely. While they did eventually come for ten days, we have enough supplies for several more visits.
I am surprised by the passing of days, Monday is suddenly Thursday, it’s still only 10:00 in the morning, the weekend crawls; the markers of our minutes and hours and days have disappeared without warning. I miss meeting friends for a hike or for coffee, the hugs, the intimate conversations, which are too difficult by text or email or telephone. I miss being able to schedule trips, a mainstay of my life these past years. I read books at the oddest times, at least in our life of three months ago. I practice the piano more than I ever did, which is good, but it seems luxurious to have so much time on my hands. Cloistered with my husband, after thirty-four years of married life, we are still discovering one another; the conversations are different; the urge for a day or two to myself is pressing; the ability to find grace in how I handle our differences is still, for me, a work in progress.
As cities, counties, states, and countries start to “reopen” (what a vastly different vocabulary we are developing in such a short time), we applaud the businesses that are trying to meet the myriad rules and regulations, to salvage their life-long vocations, to employ their workers, to come out the other side of complete shutdown with some semblance of hope for their future. We mourn the demise of local haunts, uncertain what the future will entail for so many, our children, our grandchildren, our friends, the nearing-retirement groups, the youth of America and the world. We see the inequities, the growing distinction between the haves and the have-nots, the frustration and sorrow of those left behind, their plights magnified by the pandemic, the uncertainty of moving forward as the normal strictures of our environments are upended, the constant wondering of “how long?” until a semblance of normalcy against which we can measure, plan, and depend. I don’t expect any old normal or even new normal at this juncture; too much continuing uncertainty from the pandemic, the protests, the elections, the economy surrounds us.
I especially worry about the fear that is fueling so many people in their thoughts and actions. How do we think about mingling with one another? We humans are such social creatures, whether introverts or extroverts; human touch and communication are basic tenets of our lives. Some experts anticipate we’ll never commingle like we did before the beginning of stay-at-home orders, self-isolation, mandatory social distancing, the wearing of face masks, and the extensive rules and regulations created in reaction to the novel corona virus (COVID-19) pandemic. What will that be like? I cannot yet imagine how extensive and invasive the ongoing rules may be once the country “reopens” on a wider basis. Even the words are mysterious, with different meanings and context depending on one’s perspective, fear, health status, personal relationships, employment situation.
Some friends are waiting for the magic vaccine (knowing that while many scientists and health care professionals are furiously working on a vaccine, five years is the earliest one has ever been developed, efficacy proven, and wide-spread distribution obtained) before being comfortable leaving their homes. Others are ready to hike and talk, maybe even meet for coffee (but what’s your stance on masks?), or share a glass of wine, watching the sun sink behind the mountains. I think my dear friend, who is waiting for “a hug, without hesitation,” may be waiting, still. How will we know when the time has come that we can be out and about without fear?
When will we be able to go into a store without the 6’ distance markers? When will we be able to touch a person on the sleeve, getting their attention? When will we be able to pass one another on the street without making a wide curve to avoid even the appearance of being too close? Will we have meetings in person, smiling, laughing, contributing to discussions without each of us being in our own homes peeking out from electronic screens with our inadequate microphones, time lags, and inadvertent background noises?
We need to protect the vulnerable, but how do we resume our lives? I don’t have any answers, yet I see the heartache, the fear, the sadness, the disconnection, the loneliness, the “pit in the stomach” unknowing all around me. None of my family lives within an easy drive from my home; I miss them. When will they be comfortable seeing me? When will we line up to board airplanes other than when absolutely necessary? The list of “when” and “if” and “how” is too long to ponder. For now, I will try graciously to take one day at a time.