I hemmed and hawed a little about what to write today. I hesitate to write doom and gloom because we don’t need any more of that, but so many things I’ve tried to write about seem so unimportant. So trivial in the face of what is happening around us.
I feel a need then, to write about reality. To write - as I always try to - honestly about my personal experience of our topsy-turvy current; both the doom and gloom and otherwise.
The truth is that every day is a bit of a roller coaster.
I vacillate among a calm faith in human resilience, an overwhelming sense that we waited too long to take things seriously, and a sense of dread about the fallout not just in the coming months, but a year from now or two. And I also feel everything in between.
Like Monday I went out to buy food.
It was my only real trip out in the last week and a half. I had no idea what to expect. Would there be panic? Chaos? Would it be deserted? No. It turns out none of these were the case. There was a normal amount of people and it was mostly calm and quiet, but it was not in a comforting way. There was an edge to it; anxiety.
I couldn’t help but wonder if chaos might not be better.
Briefly, I started at Whole Foods where I buy my coffee. They were making people wait outside to limit the number in the store at a time; someone would come out and someone would go in. It was an odd thing to see. Inside, the coffee shelves were mostly bare.
Next, I went to Natural Grocers for eggs (yes I know, I do have an odd shopping routine), which were completely out. There was still food everywhere around me, but all of a sudden I wanted to get to the third store where I would do my real shopping; quickly.
I got there. I bought slightly more than enough to last two weeks, as recommended, to get me through a potential quarantine as well as simply to limit trips. Much of what I purchased was frozen or shelf-stable so it will not go bad.
I tried not to hoard, but the impulse was there. I realize now there was something jarring about seeing all those empty shelves that made me want to grab what I could and run. This subsided a bit once I had my modest amount of food in the car and had stopped on the way back to fill up with gas.
At home, I feel both better and worse.
Here I have more control over how much of the world I take in. I read a summary of the headlines in the morning and a daily briefing in the evening; both delivered from the NYT by email. I don’t watch the news. I don’t get online.
At least that’s what I try to do.
Because even as I write this I deviate. It’s Saturday so I didn’t get my morning briefing and feel slightly cut off. I stop writing to search for updates. I end up reading an article about the long-term changes that might result from this situation and I actually feel excited and hopeful. So much different than I have been feeling about the future.
When I’m done though, I move to reading other headlines and I am once again sobered remembering all we have to get through first. I switch off my screen and come back here. Then I go back there and back here again.
This is how it goes.
It is a back and forth that I am trying to manage from one moment to the next.
I read that ordering take out is good - it could help local businesses stay afloat and give the delivery drivers an income - so I plan to do that once or twice a week. But then I read a reminder of the risk the drivers are taking to bring me food; a risk I don’t share with my ability to earn my income at home.
I read how we’re in a critical blood supply shortage and I want to donate so I search for appointment times. But drives have been canceled and many centers are closed and I’ve been instructed to stay home anyway so I’m left feeling unsure about what to do.
I read about the heroic healthcare teams doing what they can to provide care in so many ways across the country and I want to join them; I am a trained healthcare provider, after all. But I’m really not a front line worker and haven’t been for a while, so I have to admit that there’s no role for me there.
In the end, I come back to the same conclusion: stay home and wait.
Which feels agonizingly like not enough.
So off to my phone I go again to look for ways to help locally. But I quickly realize I need a break from all of it, however, and decide to go on my daily walk - the thing that’s doing the most to keep me sane right now.
And as I make the familiar track around my neighborhood I come across a dad, a dog, and two kids. The boy is commenting on the muddy puddles. When I’m almost to them I hear the girl - kindergarten-ish age - say sweetly: “Good morning.” I say it back with a welcome smile, but her dad corrects us both. “It’s afternoon,” he reminds. “Right, it is!” I remark and keep going.
Behind me I hear her say, “Good afternoon,” to no one in particular and my heart nearly bursts.
This - this - I think is the type of encounter that is worth noting and holding onto right now. And I will try my best to hold onto it tightly for as many moments as I possibly can.