My desk has papers scattered across it as if a whirlwind passed over it. The dining room table is littered with half completed projects. For a person who rarely leaves a task unfinished, I’ve turned into someone I don’t recognize.
Mornings find me reading everything about the virus. How many people in my area are affected and how many died? Will I recognize signs and symptoms that I or my beloved husband Bob has it? Are we doing all we can to protect ourselves when we’re grocery shopping? In the evenings I am glued to the television news waiting to hear about solutions the world has discovered.
Prior to this pandemic, my life was full and joyful. I had trips planned this year to Egypt, Mexico and France. We had family and friends to our house for meals. My days were full and I spent them at the senior centers, participating in aerobics, tai chi, weight training, and line dancing, along with 3 Spanish classes and playing bridge. At the centers were many elderly people enjoying the company of friends as well as learning and staying active. Most were single folks whose sole outlet was meeting friends at the centers. What are they doing now, all alone? Some of them had free lunches at the center. Are they okay now?
I only know the phone numbers of a few. Are occasional calls enough to replace all the time we previously spent at the centers?
I had always wished for more time to read the books I received for Christmas. Now, I supposedly have all the time in the world, yet I am unable to concentrate on reading a novel cover to cover, previously one of my favorite activities. There has been only one other time I found myself unable to focus on a book, and that was the year before my first beloved husband died. He urged me, the month before he died, to read Wolf Hall by Hillary Mantel. I tried, couldn’t calm my mind enough, and gave up. After he died, I picked it up and could barely put it down. I ended up with a thousand questions I wanted to ask and discuss with Ray, but he had died. I so regretted not reading it while he was still here. When Mantel published the second book of the trilogy, I read it as soon as it came out and then waited seven years for the third book. It arrived a month ago. I haven’t opened it.
Why can’t I read this book now? Am I as anxious and worried as I was eight years ago when Ray was dying? No one I love is dying right now. Am I afraid of dying myself? I’m 82, with underlying issues of high blood pressure and diabetes under control. These put me squarely in the crosshairs of this virus. Everything I’ve read tells me it’s a horrible, slow, lonely death, away from family and loved ones, in a hospital room filled with health care workers dressed like aliens. It’s a death I’d like to avoid. I’d like to wait for another way to die. ANY other way I think may be preferable.
I’ve realized, though, that every awful thing that happened in my life had a silver lining. Maybe there’s also one in this pandemic. I have met several neighbors, now that we all walk around the block every day. These are people I never knew lived here. I receive letters from students I taught long ago, thanking me for being their teacher. I think they are worried I may die soon. It’s sweet. I had a Zoom meeting with classmates from my St John’s College days 60 years ago! Imagine that! They are now all over the US and the UK, and we had a blast! It felt so good to donate a large box of masks that I had purchased for my trip to Egypt. Many cities are without smog for the first time in years, and bodies of water are clear. I read much about the generosity of many towards those who need help.
So, I’m hopeful. I look forward to hearing the good news about possible cures and vaccines. I look forward to the government working in concert to help the country get back on its feet, without further jeopardizing the health of its residents. I believe in the people of the US. We will end up stronger and more unified than we have been in a long time. For myself, I am finding new ways to be joyful. Reading about the generosity, kindness and incredible creativity of others during this pandemic has inspired me to be kinder. I take heart that the smiles I hear in the voices of my widowed friends were worth my time. I discovered I could reconnect with my classmates from 60 years ago as if they were in my living room, even though they’re scattered across the globe, through the magic of Zoom. I have contributed more than ever to charities.
I’m joining thousands of others doing the same, finding joy in spite of the fear, uncertainty, and sadness surrounding us.
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Katherine Haas taught at Key School in Annapolis for 43 years. She now spends her time enjoying the arts with her husband, teaching Chinese, working part-time at Key as a Storyteller and engaging in progressive activism.