Scenes from a Pandemic

In the days leading up to the “shelter in place” order, I went to the grocery store four days in a row. Initially, it wasn’t yet clear what was going to happen, how this would actually go. It was still in that moment where many people weren’t really paying attention, or if they were they maybe thought the rumors of anything like a mass quarantine was just people overreacting, that it wouldn’t actually come to that. The virus was still “somewhere else” and it didn’t seem like something we had to worry about yet, if at all. Maybe it wouldn’t end up being so bad.

The first few visits I made to the store were relatively normal, just regular trips to be sure we had what we needed for the next week or so. On the third one, I decided maybe I should think about what we might need if we got sick and were at home for even longer. I bought a few packs of toilet paper, not to hoard but because I’m always leaving that until there is only one roll left and that didn’t seem like a good idea. Eric even teased me about it, since I normally don’t buy more than one pack and it was still in that moment where panic hadn’t set in, the reality of what was coming, and it still felt like something we could joke about. I also bought things like chicken noodle soup and a few extra packages of yeast and some cold medicine, all “just in case.”

By the fourth trip, the store was packed and people were panic buying. Not only was there no toilet paper; tissues, paper towels, and napkins were almost gone. There were no disinfectants or wipes. Everyone’s carts were overflowing and even though every checkstand was open, the wait was at least 45 minutes. Still, much of the conversation in line was that people were overreacting and we were all standing so close to each other. Since that day, Eric has made another two quick trips for staples like bread, fresh vegetables and fruit. He said he tried to hold his breath and stay far away from the other shoppers, that his lungs felt like they were burning just thinking of what he might be walking into. That’s how much things changed in just a few days.

Our next trip to the grocery store was to pick up groceries, shopped by someone else so we wouldn’t have to go in. Things were getting pretty dire in terms of fresh produce at home, so we placed our order, deciding that was safer than shopping ourselves. We added to it over the course of a few days as we thought of more things, arrived at the store three days later and sat in our car while they loaded our groceries in the back and filled us in on the substitutions they’d had to make, the things that weren’t available. Once home with our haul, we felt rich, safe and content for a bit. I’m not gonna lie, going out where people were, exposing myself, taking the risk, no matter how small, left me a bit shaky. We got home and I felt like my whole body was vibrating. 

Before

After

I’ve seen posts, memes about people doing a lot of snacking while stuck at home. All I wanted for days was a big salad, usually would eat half for lunch, share with Eric, and eat the rest with dinner. The day we got our groceries, Eric took a few bites of the salad I made and I ate the rest, all of it. That night for dinner, we made roasted sweet potato salad with spinach, green onion, cilantro, and roasted pepitas, and taco beans (corn, black beans, garbanzo beans, cilantro, green onion, mayo, and taco seasoning and a few other things I’m forgetting).

Along with that giant salad, my lunch that day was a cheddar and smoked gouda grilled cheese with gala apple slices. As a disordered eater (I practiced three different types from the time I was 14), not being able to go to the grocery store and access the abundance normally available in addition to a global pandemic and my own ongoing burnout makes eating a bit tricky, feeding myself a bit complicated. That said, I have so much privilege, am so lucky, always but especially now.

My kitchen table is typically overflowing with the stuff of our daily life, the dumping ground for all the things we use daily, acts as a second makeshift office for Eric from time to time when he would do work from home. This space used to be full up with evidence of our life as we were living it. It doesn’t look the same now. First, I put my gym bags and swim gear away when the gym closed, put my water bottle on a shelf. Then the reusable grocery bags were stored away. Today it was my winter coat and snow boots put away in the closet, because spring is here. My messenger bag with all the things I might need when I go out sits on a chair, an essential suddenly rendered unnecessary.

Most of my effort right now is focused on holding two seemingly opposite things as simultaneously true. My day to day routine, other than no gym and no group yoga, is essentially the same as before. Dogs are walked, laundry is done, bills are paid, food is made, showers are taken, books are read, words are written. I meditate and take naps and watch TV and sit out in the backyard in the sun. At times, it all seems completely normal. And yet, it’s also completely different and most likely won’t ever be the same.

There is a lot of effort and rest required to hold both of those things as simultaneously true. And it’s strange because even though this feels so different than anything I’ve ever experienced before (because it is), it’s so exactly like what we all are doing all the time — simultaneously living our lives AND hurtling towards our end. We are simply more aware of it now, it is closer in, harder to deny or escape, and we are all experiencing this reality simultaneously and together but also (necessarily) apart.

What life is, always, is so clear and present now. As such, it’s both an opportunity to wake up AND a chance to be so so so gentle and kind and loving, with ourselves and each other. It’s okay to slow down, to lower the bar, to rest. Life is tender and terrible, beautiful and brutal, and that’s never been more true than now. Keep your heart open, and please don’t give up. Be safe and stay well, kind and gentle reader. I’ll be over here trying to do the same.

I'd love to hear what you think, kind and gentle reader.

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