On March 30th, joy arrived in my house with a phone call: my second grandson had just been born in New York City. The photos my son then sent showed me what a beauty he is, only six and a half pounds, with a full head of dark hair. I am greatly relieved, as well, to learn that all three of them are safely out of the hospital in Manhattan and back home again, even though they remain in the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic. And I do find myself wondering how long it will be before I am able to scoop him up in my arms for the first time.
That day began with my elation over our family’s newborn and ended with the presidential edict that our nation must remain at home for thirty more days. Life on the one hand and death on the other. Expansion—and then contraction. The swing between those two poles during these long days and weeks and perhaps months makes me wonder how best to pass through this isolation.
Feeling helpless bothers me the most. I fight it in the small ways I can: checking in at least every other day with those friends who are alone and therefore on their own; offering to run grocery errands for those who live close by me; making an appointment last week to donate blood because there is such a shortage since COVID-19 shut down all the blood drives. (How I will manage to donate now is something of a mystery, when you consider that we aren’t meant to leave the house. Maybe giving blood is considered an “essential service?”) Apart from these few small things, there seems to be little I can do to make an impact during the tyranny of this virus. I certainly don’t have a pillow factory that I can commandeer to make millions of face masks.
So I do what I can: I cook Brad some of his favorite meals and we stream a movie to watch together each day. We hug a lot and try not to bicker out of frustration. Sometimes we are more successful at this than other times. Love—no matter how strong—cannot erase anxiety. I’ve found that long strolls with one of the dogs and a friend who stays six feet away is better for curbing that emotion.
And then I remind myself that I already have a great tool in my hands that can help everyone—even though I hate using it. The absolute best I can offer is my pledge to shelter in place. That’s my true contribution. If you believe the charted projection models that Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx displayed at the President’s televised Coronavirus Task Force briefing a week ago, only through mitigation will we defeat this pandemic. If all of us observe the “stay at home” mandate rigorously, the data they are now using as the basis for their models predicts deaths in the U.S. will be somewhere between 100,000 and 240,000 people. Without it, the numbers rise to 2,500,000 and beyond.
I cannot wrap my mind around any of these figures. Courage is required to read and accept them; courage is required if we are to refuse to reject these statistics simply because it is too painful to confront them. How I wish I had a capsule called “Courage” to take along with my Calcium supplement each morning.
I walked to the end of my driveway this afternoon, and stopped just to look around. In the neighbor’s yard, the branches of the cherry trees washed the air pink. By our mailbox, daffodils bobbed their heads in merry unison with the wind, and green fingers of iris probed upward, just breaking through dirt wet from last night’s rain.
Last week, Brad and I set up a bluebird house in the backyard, hoping that soon a female would come to build a nest, lay some eggs and settle in to brood. I reassure myself that the abundance of spring is a symbol of the way life always does continue—just as I know with certainty that though I may not be able to hold my adorable new grandson yet, I’ll be able to watch him grow a day at a time via the wealth of photos that accompany my son’s texts.
So, let’s help make the world a better place: pull a book out from under that pile by your bed, stir up a pot of chili spicy enough to warm you, track the way the sprouts in your garden nose out into the light a little more each day. Find the best spot on your couch and settle right in. Release yourself down into the rhythm of this motionless march—and just stay home. Your next-door-neighbors, your family, and the world are all depending on you.