The coronavirus situation burst upon our region just before a weekend that promised to be a scheduling nightmare. Between us, my family had first three and then four conflicting events, two that were approximately 12 hours long and two overnight, out-of-town trips for work. I tackled the problem – set up rides and a sleepover, relegated the dog to the pet hotel, bowed ungracefully out of my work trip, and stared wearily at the solution for a few shining hours.
And then, LIFE happened. Not life in the sense of “a series of events Melinda has organized” but actual life – the chain of events over which we have far less control than we’d like to believe.
It’s Thursday now, the inaugural day of that wild jig-saw-scheduled weekend. Of the four events, only one remains, a board meeting my husband is attending solo.
All that coordination I did? Unnecessary.
All those conflicts? Cancelled, with prudent nods at COVID-19.
The construction and deconstruction of this weekend resembled the experience of falling backwards down stairs – bumping every step, pretending some effort of will can steer your skull away from what might fracture it.
Eventless, coordinating nothing but the order in which I’ll read my library books on Saturday, I draw a swift, sweet, breath of relief.
I call someone, and we share our relief. We count over the chores we’ll have time for now. We plan full nights of sleep for our families. We gaze at the top-heavy pile our lives have become, revealed more plainly now that it has toppled.
Our relief is complex, almost guilty. These thoughts float uneasily behind the careful calm, the prayers, the wincing curiosity for knowledge we’ll probably regret. We grieve for the suffering and the dead, and for their loved ones. If only everyone could close this virus out. If only we all could release ourselves to an afternoon of completed tasks, good books, cushions, and tea without the dark forces that make this respite possible.
COVID-19 will change us. When we return from our cloistered waiting, who will we be? Will we return, forgetful, to the habits of a lifetime? Will we never be the same again?
This afternoon in a parking lot, I overheard two students talking with a teacher about an upcoming performance. “I hope it won’t be cancelled,” the girls said. “I hope so, too,” said the teacher. “Everyone put so much effort into it.” It sounded odd, suddenly. Could the effort weigh against the risk?
Decision-making is brutal now – very hard and very simple. We’re trying to leap into our future and look back at ourselves, to make the choice now we will wish then we had made. When we arrive in that future, what will we think?
Quarantine doesn’t look much like it did in, for example, 1918. “Social distancing” might better be termed “physical distancing” when our virtual society continues unabated. We already talk to our friends more online than we do in person. Is it our social distance that is changing? Or will our last finger-hold on real life slip closer to the edge as we lose the opportunity to interact in any way but virtually?
I don’t like social media, although I see its usefulness during a contagious outbreak. But I can’t forget that sense of relief, felt and observed, as the daily grind evaporated. Sometimes, when you begin to let go, you wish to continue.
Why did it take a pandemic to stop us? What good might come out of this great evil?