In the past when asked about what I wished for in my life, I would always say “Spend more time with my family.” Alas, the coronavirus has made that a reality. Some may call it “sheltering in place,” while others will say it’s “social distancing,” but it is also leading to a situation of cabin fever that is infinitely harder than a blackout or blizzard.
In a natural disaster, we face periods of no electricity (thus no TV and Internet), no supplies, and isolation. In this case we have our utilities, can get to the supermarket, but we are still isolated. When we do go out, we wear gloves and masks and are walking into stores where most of the people are wearing masks and gloves. It is a surreal situation that I would expect to see in a Twilight Zone episode more than real life.
Neighborhoods seem like ghost towns, where once vibrant streets are eerily silent. The trains and buses are running on reduced schedules, but when you see one go by it is empty, the pale fluorescent lighting flashing on vacant seats. Train stations are like graveyards – even the rats seem to be in isolation.
In my lifetime I have experienced 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy, and both shut things down for a short time. The enormity of this coronavirus pandemic is that we have seen something unprecedented – Broadway is dark, as are the malls and stores, and the schools are all closed. The sports world has gone completely quiet, turning March Madness into March Sadness. I keep thinking of that REM song and the line, “It’s the end of the world and we know it.” The problem is I don’t feel fine.
While my kids are putting on a brave exterior, I know this is bothering them. They are taking online classes, but there is something definitely missing. They are being robbed of the school year, their classmates, and even the teachers that they now miss beyond belief. Every kid loves a snow day – they may even long for a snow week – but no kid wants a snow month or more. They are social beings and need to spend time with other kids more than anything.
They FaceTime their friends and that helps, but the length and breadth of the day is indoors with mom and dad. I don’t mind them being home, but we are both working from home, so the truth is they need to do their stuff and we have to do ours. Sometimes that does not compute. We have to interrupt what we’re doing to help them with something or fix lunch or stop an argument.
My son and I have been playing a lot of basketball. We used to get to play only once in a while on weekends, but now we are playing every day for 30 minutes. I tell him it’s his gym class, but that is good for me too. At the end of the day – after school work and our work is done – we take a long walk as a family. This is when we encounter a few other souls – a lone dog walker, a jogger, a couple here and there – and we talk and walk and feel the sunshine. This should be beautiful and wonderful times together, but the heft of what is happening in the world hangs over us, making that agony seem to overtake the ecstasy of being together.
I have found a few key things to get me through the madness of this time. One important thing is not watching TV news. The media has embraced the coronavirus madness, but this coverage is a green-eyed monster that doth mock the meat it is feeding upon. The 24/7 coronavirus reporting has made virtually every other story go away.
Every time I turn on the TV, I see Doctor Anthony Fauci (NIAID Director) talking to someone. I have nothing against the man – he is rather likeable – but I don’t want to keep hearing about this story every waking minute. I know Dr. Fauci is trying his best to help us, but please get to some other news. Please!
You might say that this is a worldwide pandemic, so there is no other news, and perhaps that is true. For my kids the news might as well be read by the Grim Reaper – they feel like their lives are in danger and are never going to be the same. Perhaps we are all feeling that to a degree, but we have to find diversions.
Luckily, we have Netflix and Disney+ and many other options. As a family we sit down and have another thing I used to wish for – family movie night. In the past they were once in a while, but now we are doing it almost every night. This is indeed a benefit of sheltering in place.
Afterwards, I have been indulging in some binge watching. Right now, I am going through every James Bond movie. Last night I watched Pierce Brosnan in Die Another Day (his last Bond film), and I hadn’t seen it since it first came out, and it’s quite good. Halle Berry has that unforgettable coming out of the water scene reminiscent of Ursula Andress in the first Bond film, and young Rosamund Pike is stunning. Now on to the Daniel Craig era.
I am fortunate that I can work from home – as so many other people are doing; however, many cannot do this. In our extended family we have four nurses and two firefighters, so they are out there every day, and they are at a greater risk of exposure to the virus. Multiply that by all the first responders and people who work in medical fields. This pandemic is affecting so many people, and there seems no end in sight.
Still, some people have good humor and are making the best of it (see video below). Perhaps humor will save us, but it’s not easy for the kids and the parents, and when you have elderly relatives to worry about the anxiety increases. Some have said it gives us more time together – time to read, to create, to cook, to meditate. All those things are good, but they are just not the same if we experience them due to mandated isolation.
What worries me is that this sheltering in place becomes the new normal. Closed stores, restaurants, and businesses may not be able to recover and never reopen. Working from home becomes the way most people work, and even schools remain online because it is an easier and safer way to educate. If we ever reach that once unthinkable situation, life as we knew it will be over, and the world will be a solemn place for our children and future generations.