Social distancing, in general, is not hard for me. I’m an only child AND an introvert AND a Minnesotan, which means I’m a social distancing triple-threat. Still, this is different. We all know it –even those of us spewing nonsense about the current state of the economy causing more pain than the disease itself. Give me a break. I won’t even go into why people matter more than money –you either get that or you don’t.
I digress, kind of.
This is a lonely time, even for a natural introvert like me. I saw my dear friend Emily at the grocery store last week and we air-hugged from 10 feet away. I got a little teary, to tell you the truth, and I don’t think she would mind my telling you that she did, too. Seeing Emily in person felt so good, so important, that I drove around to some of my other friends’ houses after that, texting that I was parked in their driveway or on the street and could they come to the door and wave for a minute? It makes a difference, seeing people’s faces in real time and space – I’ll remember that, even after all of this is over.
My friend Angie was coming home just as I pulled up in her driveway and called me. “What are you doing in my driveway?” she asked.
“I just wanted to see if you could come out to your sidewalk and talk live for a minute,” I said.
If she heard my voice shake, she didn’t let on. “I’m parked on the street. Park across from me and we’ll talk from our cars,” she suggested. So we did, exchanging our typical what-fresh-bullshit-is-this faces and diving down into the center of things the way we like to do, missing only our usual coffee and pastries (we’ll get that right next time). We rolled up our windows when people passed between us on foot—Angie is thoughtful like that—and it made a difference to be there with her, even across the street. If you happen to be looking for a real way to feel more connected, I recommend it. Keep at least six feet of distance between you, please, and wear a mask.
I tend to travel dark roads in my mind at times like this. Dreading the worst feels like a kind of psychological training, but of course it isn’t; how could anyone ever prepare for the right situations?
My friend Rachael knows someone who said we’re all in the same boat, but we’re weathering different storms. That feels true to me. I don’t know what your storm is like, but mine is a windstorm, stirring up every old thing in my life that I thought was settled and still. Old grief, anger, fears, even old grudges and injuries I believed put to rest are spinning through the air towards me–I’m aware of every crack in the door.
Some days I watch myself from a kind of distance, noticing that I am acting in much the same way I did when my mom and dad were each dying from cancer: I cook and bake a lot, I wrap myself in blankets and cry in the basement, I rearrange things in my house, and I listen for the phone. It’s a jarring time, the familiar experience of grief woven in with the strange new rituals of a pandemic.
I feel these days like I sometimes do walking the halls of my son’s high school, which has been elaborately renovated since I went there myself 30 years ago. I can travel down one of the new hallways, not knowing exactly where I am, and then suddenly I’m in the old auditorium where I took the ACT and voted for Homecoming Court, a place so frozen in time that I half expect my dad, who was vice-principal back then, to step up to the microphone and tell everyone to settle down.
I am afraid –deeply afraid—of losing another person who is important to me, and I know that’s likely, given the staggering number of people expected to die from this virus. I just don’t know who it’s going to be or when. It’s hard to calm down and then I worry about myself: what if I had a heart attack or stroke, worrying about coronavirus? I don’t want my kids to lose their mom this young. I tend to travel dark roads in my mind at times like this. Dreading the worst feels like a kind of psychological training, but of course it isn’t; how could anyone ever prepare for the right situations?
Still, experience has taught me how to make happiness bloom in the midst of an uncertain time. I spent dozens of happy hours listening to all seven Harry Potter books on Audible, for example, and I have already tried 30 new recipes this year. I opened all the windows last weekend to rinse the house with sweet spring air and made my bed slowly while it worked its magic.
We went north instead of south for Spring Break last month, and watched for cracks in the ice on Lake Hubert. We slept late and watched trash tv; that was lovely, even if we couldn’t go to the beach. There’s a new season of Top Chef on these days, gorgeous Instagram concerts by Hozier or the cast of Hamilton, and Trevor Noah to make me laugh at even the scariest parts of this. Beauty and comfort are out there and in here. We’re okay so far, even though my husband works at a hospital. We’re okay, even in our loneliness or helplessness. We are okay. Keep saying it, my friends, until it feels true.