COVID-19 Panic – The Best of Times and the Worst of Times by
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My connecting phone cord circa 1982

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

Life as we know it has ground to a halt. This is the staycation from hell that no one planned or wanted.

I taught those words from Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities many times to students in my high school English classes in the late 60s and early 70s. Dickens was describing the French Revolution and contrasting conditions in England and France at the time. Like our era, the one he described was a time of vast social inequality between the rich and the poor, of great suffering and in the midst of great wealth. The image of Madame Defarge constantly knitting a secret registry of those whom the revolution wanted to execute feels a bit like Trump metaphorically knitting an enemies list.

Of course, we are living through an unprecedented (in our lifetimes) pandemic. Staying at home, social distancing, being unable to see our children and grandchildren, performing a risk analysis for every venture out of the house, feeling fearful about any physical ailments, encountering empty stores, both literally and on Amazon, having every aspect of our normal lives disrupted – definitely the worst of times. So many events that seemed very important have vanished. Weddings and trips-of-a-lifetime have been postponed. Funerals have been downsized. Daily life has been disrupted by school closings, as my children attempt to help their children keep up with e-learning while also working from home.

Our granddaughter turned fourteen on March 16. Her sleepover party was canceled. The performance she was to attend as her gift from her parents also canceled. Her dance studio shut down, taking away the thing that she loves to do most of all. Most likely, there will be no big year-end recital or middle school graduation. This is just the scenario for one of my grandkids. All of them are struggling to adjust to the total disruption of their lives. My granddaughter with disabilities who lives in a residential special school is now in lockdown. No more visits from the family for the immediate future. So hard.

Friends and relatives who live in senior living facilities are also in lock downs. No visitors allowed and no leaving the building. In some cases, they are confined to their apartments with meals brought to them. People I know who live alone are really alone, without actual physical contact with family, friends, and neighbors. At least I am shut in with my husband and we can make our own choices about the risk of leaving our home to buy food, medicine, and necessities. Speaking of those things, people have hoarded far more food, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, Lysol, bleach, medicine, etc. than they need. There is a survivalist mentality out there as folks buy too much, leaving others without the basics they need, and as they guard their stash religiously with metaphorical if not real guns.

So, where on earth are the best of times? They include those who are generous, who share with those in need, who offer to shop for high-risk people who are told to #stayhome, or to help people struggling with how to home school their children. The independent grocery near me that instituted senior shopping hours from 6:00 to 8:00 am. The greater contact we are having virtually with our grandkids, who now have the time to FaceTime us or call us for help with their e-learning.

Strangely, while we are physically observing social distancing, my friends are calling rather than texting. My husband and I have had long conversations with our siblings and friends. Life feels a bit like it did before iPhones and social media. A close friend reminded me of our long and rambling conversations back in the 80s when we were making dinner for our kids. Phones in those days were attached to the wall, and both of us had kitchen phones with enormous cords that became stretched out by our efforts to supervise our children while also staving off the loneliness of being home with young kids by talking to each other. My husband and I are catching up with people who are/were important to us that we simply didn’t have time to call. Now, we have plenty of time.

On a personal level, while we had to take the house we were trying to sell off the market after one week of no showings, we have the time to go though things ourselves. My original plan of hiring someone to help me sift through 45 years of stuff to prepare for our move to a condo is no longer viable. This is definitely DIY time. And while we worry about our future finances if we can’t sell our house because no one wants to walk through or buy a house these days, we are also enjoying reliving our memories and rediscovering so many interesting things we have accumulated over the 51 years of our marriage. We are also discovering what really matters. Manicures and haircuts don’t, although I don’t relish going grey because my beauty shop is closed. Shopping for more stuff doesn’t seem that important. We are reading more, talking more, sharing tasks better, taking short walks outside away from others when the weather permits.

Yes, on the whole, the coronavirus crisis is the worst of times. We are unprepared. The news is terrifying. People will get sick, and a good number of them will die. Life as we know it has ground to a halt. This is the staycation from hell that no one planned or wanted. But it has given us the gift of time to slow down our lives, discover what really matters, and reach out to others. The long phone cord that connected us 40 years ago is metaphorically back. Be careful out there and reach out in whatever way you can to those you love.,

I invite you to read my book Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real and join my Facebook community.

Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Characterizations: been there, moving, right on!, well written

Comments

  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    You are right about the positive piece of this, Laurie. I am in closer touch with my children than ever before, tho I won’t be able to see them for who knows how long. I have time to chat with good friends (one joked that we should FaceTime…we’ve been friends since we were 12 and it just never occurred to either of us). I am actually doing less writing because my husband is watching TV in the room with the computer all the time and I get sucked into his shows, but we are together a lot. My workouts a little disjointed, without the scheduled gym time, but I am still doing them. Thanks for looking on the bright side. I, too, had thought of the opening lines of Dickens at various points these last several days (my husband can’t believe the distancing had been LESS than a week; feels like forever already).

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Like you, I’m doing less writing, although I’m trying to do a bit today. Talking to friends on the phone is a positive side effect. Much less texting, which is ok by me. Saw my daughter’s family yesterday when they were on a walk and waved at us through out front window. That was kind of sad.

  2. Marian says:

    This is a beautiful essay, Laurie, and reflects what I have found as well. The picture of that long phone cord brings back memories. Remember how often the phone used to ring? Love your reference to haircuts, because my salon closed the day before my appointment, and I was a month late on it to boot. Guess what, who cares? That says something about it being the best of times and focusing on what’s really valuable to us all.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Marian, I think you and I ended up feeling similarly and making a tiny bit of lemonade out of this mess. My long phone cord was a lifeline to my friends back in the day. I don’t miss texting that much and am glad to be talking to people instead.

      • What a lovely essay Laurie, thank you.
        Just a week ago my husband was in a NYC hospital for non-elective carotid artery surgery. The day after discharge, we packed up and with our son’s invaluable help, we caravanned out of New York to our country house where we’re now hunkered down. Then it was announced that NYC had become the epicenter of COVID 19, and we felt we got out just in time, but we worry about friends and family still quarantined there.
        Stay safe everyone!

  3. Suzy says:

    Laurie, once again you show us how wise you are, clearly laying out both the bad and the good in our present situation. Daily life has been disrupted, and our activities have all been cancelled. Worse, perhaps, for your granddaughter who couldn’t have her birthday party, but still disappointing for us adults who are deprived of events we were counting on too. And yet . . . you are right that there are benefits to slowing down and figuring out what really matters. I definitely need to start making more phone calls, and we don’t even need that long phone cord any more. Thank you so much for putting a positive spin on things.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Thanks, Suzy. I don’t even look at my calendar anymore. What’s the point, other than trying to remember what day of the week it is, which is challenging. This crisis makes me realize how dependent I was on my routines, but also what really matters.

  4. You are such a wonderful writer, Laurie. You have a real gift for taking us through the details to what’s really going on beneath the surface, making it all relatable to each one of us, then pulling back to reveal the larger picture. And all that while going through your own turmoil of packing and purging and trying to sell and then deciding not to sell a house, add a dash of general anxiety, disappointment (AND a surgical procedure), and yet you manage not to sound like you’re complaining or whining but actually uplifting us. My hat’s off to you once again!

  5. John Shutkin says:

    Really inspirational, Laurie. What I grudgingly consider to be the silver linings of these miserable times, you, rightly, note that these are actually the best of times in certain respects. What you say really connected and I feel a whole lot better having read your lovely, thoughtful story.

    That said, can wee please have this over with soon? And, while we’re at it, kick Trump to the curb?

    • Laurie Levy says:

      John, I couldn’t agree more with the need to be rid of Trump. Watching Fauci’s face behind the orange one is painful. I can’t even, as my grandkids would say. That said, with nothing to do except prepare my house to be sold at a time when no one can come to a showing and prepare for a move to a condo we bought just before life changed, I am talking more to friends and texting less — and that’s a good thing in my book.

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