We all, more or less, stumbled into the COVID-19 quarantine. I know I did.
In late February I’d just finished a four-month physical therapy regimen. Eager to keep my momentum going, I went to my new gym for an exercise class schedule.
I checked in with the membership director.
“She’s out with the flu,” I was told.
“Sorry to hear that,” I said, turning to the personal trainer office, looking for mine.
“He’s out with the flu.”
Two yoga instructors, same thing—flu. Plus, the place didn’t look very full.
Something’s wrong here, I thought. I’ll wait.
On March 8 my husband and I went to another couple’s home for dinner. Listening to the radio on the ride to Hillside, we heard the coronavirus discussed on NPR.
“Do we kiss them hello, as usual?” I asked Bill. “I guess not.”
“I guess not,” he agreed.
“I read an article saying we should stop hugging. The writer suggested the Vulcan salutation from Star Trek instead.”
“Could work,” Bill replied.
So we entered their home and I raised my right hand, palm forward, thumb extended, and the fingers parted between the middle and ring finger.
“Live long and prosper,” I said, quoting Mr. Spock on the old sci fi classic show. Larry tried the salutation.
“I can’t even do that,” he said. We laughed and I made a mental note to try a good ole “Namaste” hand gesture when we left.
That was the last social engagement, the last meal out, any of the four of us have had since.
Shortly thereafter, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy declared a shelter in place order. Next came social distancing, then gloves, then face masks. We all know the story.
Now, almost three months later, Murphy has lifted the stay-at-home order. That hardly means our lives are footloose and fancy-free again. Far from it.
Even as we stumble back into public life, we read headlines from credible news organizations: “Three weeks after stay-at-home order lifted, Arizona is seeing a resurgence in coronavirus cases” and “Second Wave of Coronavirus Could Bring Higher Peak in Fall.”
Still, we are partially, warily happy. Our cautious reentry is occasion for spiritual reflection—something always in vogue at The Tree of Health Center and among we memoirists who sit around the center’s actual table and, more recently, on Zoom.
Now is a time to ask: How has the quarantine changed us? And did it bring any gifts?
I notice in myself, in conversation with others, and in extensive reading that the Coronavirus has changed us. Think about the messages it has brought:
Life is fleeting.
More than one hundred thousand fellow Americans have succumbed to COVID-19. The Worldometer gives a broader perspective as of June 11:
Coronavirus Cases: 7,451,532
According to EMTs, some COVID-19 patients have died in ambulances, going from fine to cardiac arrest inside four minutes.
With this reality comes the realization that those of us still breathing should appreciate every breath and imbue our lives with … what? What happens to our inner perfectionist critics, our unrelenting drive to succeed, and our efforts to control everything in the face of such a lethal foe? In the Age of COVID-19, these inner realities are shown to be the fragile impossibilities they are.
Has the coronavirus convinced you to free yourself of these obsessions?
Flexibility is survival.
The quarantine has forced us to embrace new ways to connect in working and relating to others. Zoom, anyone?
Physical isolation would have us pose inner questions: Who have we missed? Who have we taken for granted? Who are we relieved not to see?
Further, a pandemic shows us grandly and dramatically that we depend on each other to survive. We rely on each other’s behaviors and acts of caring. And how does that message play out in our American psyches where the rugged individualist myth has reigned supreme since the nineteenth century?
Slowness is rich.
So is stillness. Being home week after week after week prompts us to reexamine how we spend our energies and our dollars.
Greatly reduced traffic offers a taste of another lifestyle. When we’re not driving and rushing from place to place, what are we doing instead? And is that something else more satisfying?
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Are you ready to examine the changes the pandemic has wrought in your mind, heart, and habits? Then join me on Zoom for COVID-19 Diaries: Writing in the Age of Pandemic, a Tree of Health Center workshop. We’ll come together in virtual community, which is fun in itself. And you’ll enjoy a landscape and time to explore and rearrange the evolving parts of your inner life.
Author: Lorraine Ash
Lorraine Ash, MA, is a book editor, author, coach, ghostwriter, and editorial director of Cape House Books. She has penned two memoirs: Life Touches Life: A Mother’s Story of Stillbirth and Healing and Self and Soul: On Creating a Meaningful Life. She studied at Fordham University and California State University, Long Beach.