We’re all feeling our way into “the new normal.” A friend in California had her hair done today. Another friend, this one in Westchester County, is having her second cataract surgery tomorrow. Her first one, in early March, bookends the period of extreme lockdown. I’m going to have my teeth cleaned in a couple of weeks. All these once ordinary activities are now nervously anticipated and somewhat unnerving. Elisabeth’s post captures the new awareness with which we are looking at our lives, past and present.
Seeing 20/20 in 2020
by Elisabeth Mitchell, Seattle, Washington
A recent trip to the eye doctor began the transition to my personal Phase 2 of the pandemic. It turns out my eye is fine but the concern was great enough to put aside apprehension about entering a medical space. What I noticed:
- There were two elevators: one, large enough for two people; the other, only big enough, even diagonally, for one.
- With a closed waiting room, a few early-arriving patients stood in the hallway, appropriately spaced.
- Doctor, assistants, staff, and I as a patient, were masked and gloved, but there was no keeping 6 feet between us.
- Surfaces were cleaned immediately before and after my touching them, causing the assistant and me to wonder what the long-term effects (other than helping to flatten the curve) are going to be during the next year as we gradually start living in a less germ-free, squeaky-clean environment.
- Among all in the office, there was a quickness to laugh, not uncomfortably, but deep within our bellies—an expression, I think, of joy at being alive and being together.
- There was a lot to laugh about: when I expressed a pre-pandemic concern unrelated to my current visit, about two growths, one on the inner eyelid of each eye, my doctor took a look and responded with a gleam in his eye, “Why yes, those are your tear ducts!”
The visit also gave me time to reflect on personal vignettes from Phase 1:
- Thanks to my older brother, my 85-year-old mother learned how to use Zoom for family calls.
- A five-year-old girl walking past our front yard display of free homemade masks asked her mom if she could take home the small, just-right-for-a-5-year-old table upon which they were displayed.
- High school neighbors and one freshman in college, home for the rest of Spring Quarter, sharing colorful rocks which they had painted; rotating them around homes for several blocks. The stones were bursts of joy: one day a white cat; several days later, a brilliant flower; another day, a sweet message. Early one morning, a thank you to them appeared—written in chalk in the middle of the street in front of their homes, the only appropriate thanks for their kindness—“You rock!”
- A Zoom meeting with our daughter who shared her investigation into the Permian–Triassic mass extinction(s). Yes, that is plural. This exploration, from someone who, like me, reads every book she can get on pandemics, and who, unlike me, is quick to veer off into sci-fi dystopian outcomes. But this time, her research into the P-T period led her to conclude that we have much to be thankful for and that we are likely to survive this and other pandemics. A leap of faith, grounded in science, I had not heard from her before.
- Memories evoked of things I took for granted.
- Thanksgiving 2019 with a houseful of extended family from across the U.S.
- When our kids were young, family trips to Ashland, Oregon, with picnic blankets cheek by jowl on the Green at the Shakespeare Festival.
- More recently, being able to hug my grandchildren and look into their eyes up close and in person.
There is more, to be sure. It has been a full Phase 1. I have yet to figure out how to get involved politically before and after November to end social, racial, economic, and health injustices in this country. I am disheartened by the COVID-19 statistics for minority communities, and horrified by the terror of the recent killings of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, among others. I am encouraged by former President Obama’s commencement speeches, and by the tremendous belief I have in young people, whose lives have been so disrupted by this pandemic. It may take us all a while to get to Phase 2 and beyond, but today, I have no doubt that we’ll get there and make much needed improvements as we go. This is our opportunity to do better.
Thank you, Elisabeth!
Your words encourage me and help me keep things in perspective. I’m grateful.
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Thanks for such a good read. Wonderful mixture highlighting the oddities, frustrations, and some of good things coming out of this strange and surreal time we are in the midst of. And you gave us some smiles and chuckles too!
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Dear Elisabeth…thank you for this comprehensive and well-written essay. I particularly appreciated your personal vignettes.
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