As I write this, I am sitting in the overturned living room of my mother-in-law and sister-in-law’s apartment, where Daniel slowly reorders sheets and blankets in order to stuff the pull-out bed back into the bowels of the couch.
I am here in Florida for my only sister’s wedding, the date set nearly a year ago. When we flew out on Monday from Hartford, there was no one in the security line. But the flight was full, and only a few families came with masks and gloves. Other than the toddler who screamed for one whole hour because her mom wouldn’t let her sit on the floor, there was barely a hint of hysteria.
Within 24 hours, however, I had received two emails from my university informing students that classes were to be moved online after spring break. Undergraduates for whom, presumably, their college town is not “home” were instructed to go back to their parents and stay there.
Though I have turned off my Facebook feed on my computer (I highly recommend News Feed Eradicator), I can still read it on my phone, and given the amount of time I’ve been spending in airports, planes, and backseats, I’ve seen my fair share of Covid-19 “opinion pieces”:
- Fear from my friends with chronic illnesses, including those of retirement age. Some have self-quarantined.
- News that the Virginia seminary I almost went to has a dozen students in quarantine because an organist from a local church, who attended a chapel service at the seminary last week, might have Coronavirus.
- An update from churches that have decided to close for two weeks or, at the very least, stop offering wine at communion. “Passing the peace” through handshakes and hugs is strongly discouraged.
- Businesses offering unprecedented refunds on flights, conferences, and hotel rooms.
- Friends using this as a “teaching moment” to talk about Bernie Sanders, or climate change, or both.
- People who think this is all a political conspiracy, despite the fact that it knows no borders and even infected Tom Hanks.
And I am overwhelmed.
I was tempted to continue with business as usual, but in the face of product shortages, manufacturing quarantines, and employment uncertainties, it seems strange to talk about consumerism.
Of course, it has always been strange. While a pandemic is unusual, crisis is not. But living in the midst of destabilized infrastructure, in this moment, feels paradigm-shifting. It feels like one big question.
How do we talk about “zero waste” when sterilization is a short-term necessity?
How do we talk about animal welfare when we don’t even treat our own species humanely?
How do we enjoy the things we enjoy – including fashion – in a social distancing situation?
How do we anchor ourselves to the peace of unknowing and the stillness of no control?
All I know is that I am trying to lean hard on what I’ve already learned in the midst of injury and medical uncertainty this semester, that sometimes the best we can do is be diligent, and still know when to stop striving.
Put another way, sometimes we are meant to endure a long listening instead of speaking. Now, I think, is a time for un-verbalizing and un-doing. Allowing what we don’t know to wash over us, and to remain here just the same. Now is a time for compassion, a reassessment of what we’ve taken for granted, a time to store up joy like precious jewels.
A time to experience, through isolation, the intense need we have for one another, and to make promises of community dependence we will actually keep.