Already it is a little hard to remember what it used to be like in the world. We each had a normal life; now we have the new normal. We are learning how to do small things in new ways, and we are learning to grapple with big things that we never expected would be in our lives. In no particular order of importance or magnitude, some things I have learned so far from my life in the time of coronavirus:
1. Life continues to do its thing. The power outage Monday night showed us that even though we are all holding it together, bucking up, focusing on the pandemic and all of its ramifications, fighting the good fight, trees still fall in Hingham and knock out the lights in all of Hull. That event cracked my composure, I confess. Losing the lights made me cry. On the other hand, Chris Russo continues to be Chris Russo, a steady beacon in that night’s darkness.
2. The earth continues to do its thing. It continues. The ocean comes in and out, makes noise, reminds us that it is bigger than we are. Daffodils are coming, forsythia is here, the leaves are starting on the crab apple tree. My neighbor putters around his yard, and it comforts me to see him, and it makes me think of buying lettuce seeds, planting zinnias, cutting the hedge I have never cut.
3. Focus is hard. It is hard to pay attention for more than 10 minutes at a time, so full my mind is of coronavirus news and grappling with the new world we now live in. I have made a list of things that I can accomplish in 10 minutes. This is helpful.
4. We all have challenges. We are all affected differently, and there are challenges no matter what our circumstances are. The life of someone with kids at home needing schooling is very different than mine. But here we all are. And no matter what our circumstances, if we are not sick or dying, or love someone who is sick or dying, or taking care of the sick or dying, there are people going through harder things. Remember them.
5. Video chatting is good – video meetings, video lunches, video whatever. Try it if you haven’t. It is comforting to see the people you can’t be with. The thought of teaching my 95-year-old mother how to download and use Skype on her iPad seems both necessary and impossible. She’s pretty accomplished with her iPad, but if I drank, which I don’t, I’d drink before trying.
6. Powdered milk is not a substitute for real milk. I only bought it for my tea, which I drink a lot of, with milk, all day long. The powdered milk is supposed to reconstitute into something resembling real milk. It doesn’t.
7. Ration the news. Each week there is a new thing in the news that makes me crazy with anxiety and anger. This week it is ventilator shortages. Last week it was hospital beds. Next week it will be something else. The hard thing is that we are still in the early stages of a long road, and we are already beginning to see the effects on the medical system. A lot of people still aren’t staying home. Please stay home.
8. Some news informs and comforts. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s daily news briefings are both inspiring and informative. Even though he is talking about New York, it is comforting to listen to someone lead in the way he is leading, speaking to people the way he is speaking to people. One of the things he said that I found comforting was this. He held his hands apart and said something like: This is difficult. But it’s for this much time. Whether this much time is a few months or several months or longer, it is this much time. It is not forever. We can do this for this much time.
9. I can do this for this much time.
10. There is some peace in “not doing.” No running around. None of the hundreds of daily decisions about where to go and when and whom to see and what to wear. Many other hard decisions, but for many of us what to do outside of the house is not one of them. I am aware that the “peace” part may not be the case for those with little kids at home. I, too, have my challenges, but that is not one of them.
11. The coronavirus permeates our sleeping thoughts, too. I had a nightmare that the aforementioned 95-year-old mother got the virus because we told her not to go out, but we didn’t tell her specifically not to go to weddings. It woke me up, and for a few seconds I thought it was real and was filled with dread.
12. Everything that was hard in the old normal is harder now. It is harder to have cancer or a serious medical condition. Even normal sicknesses are harder now because it is frightening to go to the doctor. It is harder to have an injured pet. It is harder to be unemployed. It is harder to need something. It is harder to love someone and fear for them.
So here we are, learning how to do this together, each of us differently. Grief and anxiety are normal. Hope and courage and tenacity are good and necessary. Life continues in its rainy and flowering chaos. We can do this. We can do this for this much time.
Catherine Goldhammer is the author of “Still Life with Chickens: Starting over in a House by the Sea.” She lives and writes in Hull.