Life is so quietly surreal these days that lying here in bed tonight I wonder if I’m even truly conscious of how different everything is now, entering the fourth week of isolating myself at home and practicing social/physical distancing every time I go anywhere, which has only been to walk for exercise at a couple of our parks here in Charleston. No other place have I ventured out to, not to my favorite stores, which are closed except for Dollar Tree, not even to the grocery store for three weeks as of Monday.
Everywhere there are deserted streets except for people out walking. A few cars. At first it seems like an eerie kind of quiet, but as the days pass living in this state of near suspended animation compared to our normal bustling lives, it takes on a calmer, more normal aspect. Of course that’s a coping mechanism. If you live alone like I do, and have for most of my life, it’s not too unreal. I’ve got my Internet, my books and magazines, my photography and enough food. I’m quite accustomed to being by myself. I have no dependents or offspring. I hardly care what I eat. I feel pretty good. I have great new, much younger neighbors who are looking out for me. They are busy renovating the house next door which they bought this past Fall. They are there, husband and wife, working together, young and enthusiastic. They give me hope. Yesterday they left homemade chocolate chip cookies on my back steps for my birthday.
And, it’s important to note, I’m retired. Two months ago I was released from ten years of full-time caregiving for my mother who passed away and mercifully does not have to live through this mind-boggling caronavirus pandemic, the likes of which the world hasn’t seen since the 1918 Spanish flu contagion that swept across the world. Can you imagine if my mother, who was 96 and suffered from severe dementia and diabetes, had lived to see his newly quarantined world where people are afraid to do something as basic as grocery shopping unless they have to? Would I have been able to get caregivers? What does Hospice do in pandemics? I couldn’t have possibly cared for her with no help at all. Merciful God, she was spared this, and I have a fighting chance now.
How on earth are people who are currently caregiving loved ones, with myriad health and other problems, coping at home with them? And tragically, if they are in assisted living and nursing homes and their loved ones can’t visit, can you even imagine how awful that must be? Again, it’s not something I can even conceive of, as close as I was to my mother, and how every day for years was taken up with her care. Or, to be old and have to possibly die alone on a ventilator in a hospital after being infected with the virus, struggling for days or weeks to survive, radiating an intense fear to the heroic front-line health care workers trying to save their lives, even as they risk their own lives with inadequate personal protective equipment. Hospitals on the verge of, if not presently overflowing.
It’s a staggering shock to realize how bad it could get because we weren’t prepared for this by any stretch of the imagination.
Now during these quietly strange days, I sit in my peaceful cocoon, my sanctuary on a quiet street in a medium-sized city, with a lot of new-found time to think and read and attend to dozens of projects I previously had hardly any time for. I often think what must it be like for stir-crazy parents and kids crammed into once adequately sized living quarters, trying to adjust as a group to homeschooling, new teaching roles for parents, and spouse or partners working from home if they can. I think about, without being able to take it all in, the fact that there were ten million new unemployed in the past two weeks because everything has shut down except essential businesses.
You couldn’t even make this up. This is looking more and more like some advancing dystopian world in a sci-fi novel. Right now the center is still holding and people are clinging to the hope that this will be temporary, but there’s no way of knowing when the states of emergency will be lifted, or the stay-at-home orders from our governmental officials. Try to grasp that fact. We who have enough for the moment probably can’t imagine what it’s like to suddenly have no way to pay rent or mortgages, or buy enough groceries to feed hungry children, or pay bills. Requests for assistance at food banks are up eight-fold in a matter of days.
The news is nothing but Covid-19. Everywhere you turn. Everything else seems to have come to a standstill. Pollution, global warming, climate change — every major problem seems to be cast aside in our pre-occupation with this pandemic. Understandably so, but at great cost if we are not vigilant in all other areas.
My dreams are getting stranger and more vivid, something I’ve experienced for a long time now, but I think this will only intensify. Dreams might be helping us cope with a waking world which is starting to crumble around us.
As social worker Martha Crawford wrote:
“…We’re dealing with a very intense cluster of very primal, existential anxieties right now — fear of loss of loved ones, fear of our own potential death, fear of suffering, fear of watching other people suffer, loss of contact with people we love, We’re trying to keep our lid on and contain ourselves during the day and so at night, [dreaming] is the way we release that repression mechanism and start processing how we are making sense of these things….”
But is there really any way to make sense of all this uncharted territory. This terra incognito.
Yesterday morning, Monday, was the start of another work and school week, but it wasn’t. I lay in bed not really wanting to get up, but noticing how quiet it was. No cars and voices of people. A bit later, after I’d gotten up, the garbage was picked up, I had my usual breakfast of a bowl of oatmeal, the mail was delivered, I constantly checked my email and was on the lookout for text messages. Everything seemed so normal. But it was a totally new normal, a quiet Sense of dread that must be constantly pushed out of my mind as I read one horrendous news story after another. Where’s the exit ramp? I want off.
Postscript: if you have Pandora Music, the Zen Garden channel is helping me keep calm and centered.
Sign of the times