When navigating a crisis, whether personal or public, walking that narrow bridge between keeping calm, cool and collected and begging for help is where I usually find myself. Many of the recent Ragtag Daily Prompts (“Sangfroid, “Hold My Hand,” and “Looking Within“) are pretty good thumbnail sketches of the various mental and emotional states most of us are experiencing in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Many years back, when our children were younger, they commonly reacted to parental warnings about avoiding disease and infections with “You know you have to die of something some day, right?” I’m glad and proud that they grew into adults who can understand that it isn’t so much what you might die from, but what you have to live with on the way to death’s door. I have been reminded of those conversations many times over the past weeks, particularly after seeing the pictures of crowds of young people congregating on the beaches of Florida, determined to have their Spring Break. They seem to be oblivious to the fact that even if they escape coming down with the virus, they can still bring it home to their parents, grandparents, neighbors and friends, many of whom may be in a fragile state and for whom it could be deadly. I’m tempted to be very, very angry at their lack of common sense, but I also remember those wonderful days of youthful certainty when I believed that adults were just old fogies determined to squeeze all the fun out of life by exaggerating the dangers.
I’m still struggling with my personal assessment of how much danger we are actually in. I’m careful and have increased my use of hand wipes, alcohol and soap. I’m limiting personal contact to my immediate family, and on those necessary trips to the grocery store am cognizant of maintaining distance from others. I even acknowledge that my husband was right about the extent of this crisis, admitting that in the past I have sometimes thought he’s related to the boy who cried wolf!
Being an optimist and someone who treasures solitude, it has come as a great surprise how difficult it is to practice social distancing. I continue to remind myself that I am fortunate. I do not live alone and am relatively healthy. I have enough food in the cupboards and medicine in the cabinet, and have ways to get more if need be. I am computer proficient (for someone in her 70’s) and have numerous friends I can connect with through Facebook or email. I am heartened by the stories of Italians singing from their balconies, and a group of neighbors doing Zumba in their backyards, maintaining distance, yet in sight of each other. I am grateful to the musicians who play music on line and the religious leaders who provide lessons from history and tradition to help me work my way emotionally and spiritually through this very frightening time. And the admiration and gratitude I have for the medical personnel and others who are out there on the frontlines of this crisis are far beyond any measure.
But then, one of our children lives on the opposite side of the country and the city he lives in is currently under quarantine. Because he works in the restaurant industry, his job situation is precarious. We are lucky to be able to help him at a distance. But as every parent knows, in such a crisis situation, we don’t want contact with our precious children through facetime or email. We want them in the next room, at the dinner table or sitting next to us on the couch where we can see them and know without question they are okay. I did not fully realize the emotional effects that have been building over the past few weeks until last Friday evening, when I live-streamed a Shabbat service. Within moments of hearing the rabbi’s lovely voice singing in welcome to the peace of Sabbath, I was overcome with tears. I wanted to be in the sanctuary, in the physical presence of my fellow worshipers, wanted to share hugs and words of encouragement and hope with them.
There are life lessons in facing a crisis. I will never be able to hear of children being separated from their parents (whether at the border, in courts of law, or through sickness and tragedy) in the same way. I will have more understanding of people who are alone and scared, or who have no supportive community to count on. In facing a crisis we can choose to either grow in compassion and understanding or descend into violence and selfishness. We can either fight over toilet paper, or we can extend our hands (virtually for now) in friendship and solidarity.
©Martha Hurwitz, 3/22/20