View From A Quarantine

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in

Leonard Cohen

“Be careful what you wish for,” my mother used to say.

“You just might get it.” A wise woman, whose words I often disregarded when she was alive, her advice has been on my mind a lot lately. 

Time, as we experience it on this plane–as we have all agreed, is linear. A steadily-paced constant. Yet I know I’m not alone in the perception of its acceleration. In recent years I’ve felt more and more like a hamster on its wheel, running frenetically in a perpetual, never-ending race. My days consisted of  rushing to commitments, appointments, and activities packed into an impossibly tight schedule and coordinating the inherent overlapping and conflicting logistics of the same. Fueled by a bottomless to-do list, my go-mode was switched to “over-drive” nearly 24/7. 

Until March 15th, that is. Before that fateful date, I ran myself ragged trying to keep up, all the while complaining about being too busy. 

“I don’t have time. There’s never enough time!” 

The words chanted in my head on repeat, serving as the mantra that simultaneously reflected and solidified my reality. The words streaming on a loop were sent upward, a prayer, intended or not, pleading Please, slow me down.”

And then, the pandemic stopped life in its tracks. 

Our family chose social isolation earlier than the rest of Columbia because of our most vulnerable member, 20-year-old Sydney. People with Down syndrome are more susceptible to a variety of health concerns, among them, respiratory issues. When she was two, we nearly lost her. Hospitalized with pneumonia that quickly spread to both lungs, she remained in the PICU for a month, unable to come off a ventilator. Her prognosis was bleak until suddenly . . . it wasn’t. The doctors persisted, her treatment worked, and her little body fought its way back from the brink. Once she turned around, recovery was astonishingly quick.

Steven and I have no desire to revisit that perilous situation, hence our vigilance in quarantining. On Saturday, March 14, I taught my last group fitness class. We pulled Xander out of high school and Sydney out of her day program and part-time job. Steven continued to work from his office at home. The personal losses for each of us weighed heavy. Gone was my job of 13 years at Wilson’s Fitness, the job I love, working with and for people I adore. My kids saw their daily routines and future plans vanish into nothing. My husband bore up under the mounting pressure of economic crisis and the rippling effects crashing through the markets. ​Now every day brings more uncertainty with little reassurance to hang onto.

We watched as postponements and cancellations rolled over our community, throughout the country and the entire world. We felt every closure, shut-down, lay-off, and furlough. The great, ceaseless churning machine of the world  seemed to just . . . stop. 

At least within the sphere of my reach. 

I’m well aware that for others, life has shifted gears into an alternate reality, even more fast-paced. Those who keep our life-sustaining systems up and running, roles that were undoubtedly taken for granted before, warrant hero status now in the after.  Workers who make sure the lights still come on and the water runs and the garbage is picked up and the grocery shelves are stocked and goods are transported and packages are delivered and food is prepared. And particularly workers in healthcare who take care of the most vulnerable among us, who step up to practice medicine in a way no schooling could have prepared them for. The display of humanity at its best inspires me with overwhelming gratitude.

Peering out my quarantine window, I see evidence of the helpers that Fred Rogers’ mother told him to watch for and they are everywhere. It is a daunting task; we must work together if we are to get through this. But there is hope in the big picture.

The village is intact.

In reverse, looking in through the window that frames our little familial microcosm, one might observe a broad spectrum of behavior on any given day. We grapple with attempts to stay calm and present in the un-knowing of what’s ahead. Any bets on consistency are off. Some days acceptance seems effortless. Frequently, those are the days we skip the news and allow life to unfold naturally. Other days, restlessness sends us careening off the walls, ricocheting without intentional direction. The next day might find us squinting at the digital windows of Zoom to catch a glimpse of the outside world at large, each pane filled with the sight of familiar faces. Those are the days our hearts get a much-needed recharge. Then there are those intermittent down days when, without warning, a tsunami of grief rises up to pull us under.

”Is this our new normal?” we find ourselves wondering, though we know it can’t go on forever. For now, though, we have nowhere to be except right where we are and that has never happened. I recognize it for the miracle that it is. But on Day eleventy-seven of our release from the confines of routine, I’m starting to feel a little adrift.

It’s not that we haven’t explored the opportunities of open-ended free time. Just as many others, we’ve been impressively productive and participated in trending quaran-time activities: cleaning out every closet, drawer, and hoarding nightmare in the house, preparing gourmet recipes and wholesome meals, working out constantly, practicing spirituality, journaling, painting, remodeling, gardening. Bursts of energy enable us to tackle long-neglected projects and finally check off those to-do lists with great satisfaction.

But not every day. 

Coping with this pandemic requires more than creative solutions. Responding to this unique situation will result in more than one-size-fits-all emotion. More like a whole wardrobe in each day. For several days I’ll feel sunshiny and full of promise, then clouds unexpectedly gather, the blues set in and I wander the house, unable to concentrate, trying without success to follow the game plan I’ve laid out for the day.

It’s not just self-pity that sends my heartstrings reverberating. I watch through the windows of my laptop and iPhone and TV screen struggles framed on social media, stories of friends, loved ones, and strangers, too. They may be different than my own, but the impact is universal.

Parents in quarantine have less time, not more, wrangling children while working from home, feeding them 25 times a day and trying to provide some sort of normalcy to allay the fear that it’s “the end of the world as we know it.”

I see my friends who parent kids with special needs and find themselves overwhelmed with providing stimulation, support, therapy, and interaction without benefit of the interventions they rely on. And the strength of single parents is already herculean. Now they are taxed to unbearable levels, living out an even more literal version of “Do I have to do everything myself?”

 I watch us all worry about jobs and small businesses that may or may not make it through, about shrinking incomes, about the economy as a whole. We worry about our healthcare system, if there will be adequate supplies and equipment. We pray for those witness to suffering and death, exhausted and spent, who put their own health on the line to care for others. We pray for those navigating cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic conditions. And we pray for all those who are ill and dying. Especially at the end.

Especially when they are alone.

We’re watching a global crisis playing out in real time, in real life. A seismic shift of proportions this epic cannot be underestimated for its earth-changing aftershocks. I cast my thoughts forward to envision this new world and can’t quite come up with it. Where we’re going, I don’t know, but I do know there is only one way to get there. With compassion for ourselves and others; my mom taught me that. It’s the legacy she left me with.

 “I have one principle I hold tight to,” she said.

“Always be kind.”

“And always, always be kind to yourself.” 

We are not psychotic, it just feels like it right now. There is no right or wrong way to get through this; we’ve never done it before. Surviving comes first. But the fix for a broken world? That comes when her inhabitants emerge into a new paradigm to move beyond surviving to thriving, when new perspectives birth new possibilities. Then, the view through the quarantine window reveals its most poignant gift with brilliant clarity: in healing ourselves, we heal the world.

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Filed under Family, Gratitude, Grief, Letting Go, Motherhood, Pandemic, Self-Care

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