I went grocery shopping on Friday, the last time I would be in a public space for awhile, while wearing disposable gloves and a face mask. No one else in the store was decked out like me. I felt a little self conscious, but what can you do? With everything shutting down and social distancing advised it was the only way I could convince Harlan to let me out. I had a box of N95 masks leftover from Northern California’s last wildfire season and, even though they have not been shown to prevent the contraction of COVID-19, I figured it couldn’t hurt. These protective measure may seem a bit dramatic, but with my weakened immune system from Lyme infections and multiple autoimmune conditions I am at higher risk for serious complications from this virus than others in my age group. So I wore the gloves and the mask. Since then our family has chosen to self-isolate at home (though I’m pretty sure it’s only a matter of days before this becomes an official mandate) so as to protect my health and the health of our community as best we can.
Life feels surreal. Quiet streets, empty shelves and dramatic predictions contribute to a somewhat apocalyptic state of mind. Given what has happened around the world I am anxious about what lies in store for us here in the US, particularly as our government has taken so long to acknowledge the seriousness of this pandemic and is still struggling to put the necessary supports in place. It’s clear that we’re way behind the ball and in for quite a ride. This is real and scary. My unease looms large at night once the distractions of the day are gone. I ask Harlan to wrap me in his arms and place a hand on my heart to ground me. But getting stuck in anxiety and fear won’t strengthen my immune system or soothe my children’s nerves. They need their parents to be the calm in the middle of the storm. So I am making conscious choices to settle myself. I limit my exposure to the news, allowing Harlan to give me important updates. I read, write, practice my chorus songs (even though we aren’t rehearsing at the moment), snuggle my pets, hug Harlan and the kids, take hot showers, get as much sleep as I can, and eat well. I also get out in nature. I am extremely fortunate to live in a place with good weather and plenty of lightly trafficked trails (where it’s easy for me to keep myself at least 6 feet away from others) so I can move my body and inhale the fresh air.
And…I am reminded of the hidden blessings of uncertainty. My seven years of living with chronic illness have taught me some things about how to manage the unknown and even recognize its gifts. When our security is threatened we can experience renewed clarity about what truly matters: life itself and the people we love. We let go of unnecessary preoccupations. We become present and notice the things we don’t usually give ourselves time for. I have a fresh appreciation for tiny, beautiful moments: our dainty tabby cat rolling around the bedroom rug in a beam of sunlight, our dog bouncing — Tigger-like — as he runs towards me with a frisbee dangling from his mouth, Wyatt gazing deep into the golden eyes of our more rotund feline, a spontaneous hug between Ava and Ellie, the yellow moon and the view of twinkling lights over San Francisco Bay, the warmth of Harlan’s body as we drift off to sleep.
This is a time to pull our loved ones close, virtually even if we can’t do it physically. I am thankful to be able to FaceTime with my closest friends in other parts of the Bay Area and with my sister, 10,000 miles away in Rwanda. And though I’m not sure my kids appreciate it as much as I do, I am grateful for our extended family time together. We have the opportunity to connect more deeply throughout the day than when we are scattered in different locations.
We had my parents over on Saturday evening. With changes being announced daily, even hourly, I knew this might be the last time we could see them in person for a while, so I savored every moment. During a spirited game of Pictionary (after which we carefully sanitized our hands before eating my mom’s homemade Mexican dinner), I watched as my almost 90 year old father speedily sketched something for my 17 year-old son to decipher, and my heart overflowed with love and gratitude. These people…the ones we love…are EVERYTHING. There really is nothing else that matters.