You: So, What’s new with you?
Me: Hmm. Oh! I bought toilet paper today!
You: Wow! That’s so awesome! Good for you!
Me: Yeah, it’s a good day.
This is not the conversation that would have made the headline of my newsreel several weeks ago. Then again, there are a lot of things happening these days that are not what I could have imagined as we are reconditioned–daily–on the new reality of our lives.
For example, I had finally trained my brain to bring my own canvas bags to the grocery store–every time. On my toilet paper run today (pardon the pun) at the drugstore, I was not allowed to use my own bag. I also did my own scanning and bagging, while the cashier supervised me at her till. It doesn’t alter my experience much, and I am grateful that I can still shop, it’s just that it wasn’t’ like this yesterday. And the day before that, I didn’t have to line up to enter the store. And the day before that I could pay with cash. And the day before that I could buy three cans of soup in one outing. And…you get the picture.
Ours is a very private family, not unfriendly, but fairly insular on a good day. We do so many things together during our free time that I’m not sure our children realize that we have been social distancing for the past seven weeks. Our euchre tally is creeping up to one hundred games. Crazy Eights has picked up steam. The poker chips are coming out tonight, so we’ll break out games of Black Jack and Poker. Perhaps now is the time to start learning Craps, a game that has always baffled me at the casino when I look on and try to figure out the rules. I’m always looking for new ways to throw my money away. And thank goodness for Pizza and Survivor Wednesdays. We record the Masked Singer on the same night so we have something to look forward to on Thursday.
We’ve managed what little social interaction we usually have through online games with other families. Ellen DeGeneres has a fantastic app called Psych!, which we play with participants from across the room and around the country. We also joined a 3-D euchre group to revive the competition between our extended families. A friend has organized Trivia Night with a Zoom room of contestants.
Our Easter gathering was also a Zoom event, with 20 people attending via technology–we were a few hours away from 21 in attendance as my nephew tuned in while awaiting the arrival of his baby daughter at the hospital (welcome to Chelsea Rose!) At least I won’t have to be concerned about making vegetarian and gluten-free additions this year for those who are so inclined. And no one has to pretend to like my over or under-cooked main course. My house is not exactly clean, but it is definitely clean-er than it would have been after winter hibernation. I am wearing a t-shirt today which has a hole in the front, and I don’t care because it matches my sweatpants.
Like so many others, we’re losing some income, but we’ve found that we’re also unexpectedly saving on so many things: We’ve put the brakes on petrol bills and car repairs. Entertainment is sold out. Eating out is off the table. Gym memberships and sports requirements are now out of bounds. Instead, our fitness is being maintained as we walk and familiarize ourselves intimately with our surroundings, examining each road and trail in our neighbourhood every single day. We comment on how lucky we are to have left Toronto a few years ago as we appreciate the space around us. We finally met our new neighbour–from a safe distance–who was out washing his car. A friend sent me a 30-day home fitness routine, and I’m finding it difficult to come up with an excuse not to follow it. Perhaps I’ll get back to Duolingo and brush up on my Español. One of my sons is teaching himself the guitar so Sgt Pepper is our new background music.
Our kids began their online courses last month. I am dripping with sarcasm when I tell you how much they are enjoying this challenge. How do they still find time to fit in six episodes of Family Guy, a slew of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and binge watch Community for the third time, as well as work out for a few hours? Honestly, I don’t envy them. Self-discipline, self-motivation, time-management–these, among others, are skills our students will have to master in a hurry. It’s sink or swim time. At the same time, I’m trying to learn online marketing for my book, which may be the end of me. When I type in my question in the “help” bubble, I get a reply which looks like this: Simply navigate to your ksdjhfakdjhdkweiu page and click on the xncvjisdhfa3i78rh4, which will ask you to click ‘Allow.’” I’m not sure what I just did, but I may have sent 342 people my credit card information. Please delete.
I’ve stopped listening for breaking news throughout the day because it breaks more frequently than the Jenga block tower with which we’ve been playing. I’ll listen to the highlights at the beginning of each day and avoid the end-of-day information, otherwise, I’ll never sleep again; there are only so many times a day a person can hear those “un” words: uncertain, unprecedented, unpredictable, unprepared, unusual. It’s become utterly–unbearable.
It is surprising how quickly we can all adapt to this ever-evolving way of being. Somehow, we are able to internalize the hourly deconstruction and reconstruction of our world when the only thing we can consistently rely on is change itself. I heard yesterday that we are expected to maintain our current level of distancing (hopefully without an increase in intensity) for at least the next three months. We are lucky for the arrival of spring, which always brings with it a sense of hope and rebirth, despite living in the shadows of the growing walls around us.
We are thankful for blue skies, for food on our table, for our good health, for the Internet, for the people working for us on the front lines, trying to keep the enemy at bay. We cheer for those who are finding creative ways to weather the storm. And we pray for those who are experiencing hardship.
I just revisited Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, on a whim, and was reminded that in these circumstances, specifically for those living alone, the very basis of that pyramid (physiological needs) is on shaky ground at best. Every level above feels a slight tremor with each passing day: safety, love/belonging, esteem, self-actualization. Despite the gloominess of this realization, it also brings to the forefront the many stories of kindness and compassion that are circling the globe. So many people are putting aside their anger, selfishness, and privilege and are finding ways to bring calm to the chaos, to support the sick and weary. We are bringing food, medicine, patience, understanding, concern, and a friendly (from 6 feet away or behind glass) face, even though sometimes it feels like a hug is what we want, and what we want to give, most.
You may have read Kitty O’Meara’s viral poem, but it’s worth repeating as we try to find some grace beneath this global blanket, feathered with more questions than answers:
And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.
And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.
And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.
The state of humanity has changed drastically, even since I began writing this column earlier today, which brings me back to the question:
So, what’s new with you?