I will be honest; these are scary times for us all. I received word that my university was going on-line for the rest of the semester, not just until April 6th as we originally thought. No goodbyes and traditional gatherings to celebrate together as we would have done normally. Everything just stopped; the world as we know it has turned on end, brought to our knees by an invisible foe.
I realize it is for the best, and I’m proud of UAB- a major hospital system as well as a Research 1 university- for doing the right thing to help stem the tide of this awful virus. I guess I expected this scenario to happen but I’d been in denial, wanting so badly for life to return to normal.
I am grateful that we were able to have our annual UAB Clarinet Symposium in early March and that I was able to go on an Amicitia Duo recital tour with my best friend. Those ‘last’ gifts before our world’s tailspin will sustain us and give us hope for what will be again when we finally make it to the other side. Making music with others is a gift I have never taken for granted, and its absence is deeply felt.
Dan and I have been self-isolating for over a week now. We talked about what we could do to help our local economy, so while we were getting over our flu bug we ordered groceries on Shipt and lunches online from our favorite restaurants most every day. Even though we are huge homebodies, there is a difference between choosing to stay home and having to stay home. We joke and call it house arrest, but that’s really what it is. It’s a strange new world that we will all have to adjust to in the coming weeks.
Once we felt better, we ventured out to pick up prescriptions and groceries, and to buy some flowers and herbs to plant. Totally not an essential purchase, but we knew we needed to dig in the dirt and plant things to stay sane with all of the stress bombarding us from every direction. Our normal spring routine of bringing our gardens back to life would be medicinal…really, any routine is a much-needed anchor for us right now.
What different experiences we had; at the garden center people kept a respectful six feet apart from each other, smiling and wishing each other good health. An older woman was behind us in line and struck up a conversation with us. An older gentleman behind her told us he’d been HIV-positive for thirty years and that he’s doing well, but that he’d never seen anything like this before. Other people commented and added to the conversation as we waited to check out, including a woman who shared that her son was on lockdown in Spain right now and couldn’t come home. The worry and fear in her face just broke my heart. I think we were all looking for a bit of yard therapy to take our minds off of the sadness.
Dan joked and encouraged as he always does (the man never met a stranger), and as we were heading out of the shop, the woman behind us stopped us and thanked us for being kind to everyone and elbow-bumped Dan. My heart felt so happy to have this wonderful interaction with fellow gardeners- the last for who knows how long, as all non-essential businesses closed at 5pm today for the foreseeable future.
The grocery store was quite a contrast; the parking lot was packed and felt like ‘Mad Max at Thunder Dome’ with road-raging people frantically racing about. People looked angry and fearful, many not making eye-contact, the traditional Southern friendliness gone. The paper products aisle was starkly empty (the same story all over town) with only a few boxes of rationed Kleenex available. Canned soups were rationed, too. So many items were wiped out in frozen foods and other areas. This is only week two…I suddenly felt panic rise in my chest, remembering all the stories my mom told me about growing up in the Depression and living through WWII. Dan kept reminding me to breathe.
I know that we are living in extraordinary times, and we will see the very best of human nature and the very worst. I am doing my best to connect the dots, vigilantly looking for those best moments, collecting them to make a bouquet of beauty and hope. The garden shop was one, another came via a notification on NextDoor:
Yes, there are selfish, angry people out there that just make me shake my head. A lot of them. But there are also a lot of heroes. I think of my Department Chair, Patrick, who is being strong for us all, checking on everyone and offering help to his faculty and students as we face a whole new world of on-line teaching and learning next week. There are our wonderful neighbors, texting to check on us, offers of help and concern called out from across the street. There are our resilient students who are looking for ways to support each other and stay connected. There are our hardworking healthcare professionals, grocery store workers, pharmacists, and on and on- all trying to help us keep going. There are my musician colleagues from around the world, sharing their art to bring some much-needed beauty in these dark times.
Our job in all of this? Be kind. Be patient. Be optimistic. When I feel scared I remind myself that I am the daughter of parents who lived through the Great Depression and WWII, and that my father bravely fought in three wars. COVID-19 is our generation’s war. How will we look back on our actions during this time? I want to remember that I was human; I was scared, but that I did my best to stay strong and keep my sense of humor. That I did my best to be kind and help others, putting the big ‘we’ ahead of the ‘me’. That I shared some beauty and laughter to help lift people’s spirits. Those are my goals in these extraordinary times.
Be safe, be well.