Updated: Mar 29, 2020
It is Sunday night. Jobless and quarantined, I am sitting at my rickety kitchen table. A flea market find, painted haphazardly with a thin coat of faded white, as if the paint itself was sepia-toned. The job was chipped when I bought it, that was part of the charm, and it’s become more charming over the years with use and a scandalous absence of coasters. I’ve got two pots of vegetables on the stove. I should have gallons of stock by the end, if I don’t let the gentle lullaby of the simmer send me to sleep first. Phoebe, my little dog who’s recently been living her best life since Mom is home all of the time, sniffs the air optimistically. It is my Day Seven.
I began wearing make up again on Day Four because of how tired I looked in the mirror; it reminded me too much of the economy. I curled my hair on Day Five, but couldn’t justify using hairspray. Down the road I’ll take a look at why I need make up and a hair wand to achieve my “normal”, but for now, in this new landscape, I’m taking it one step at a time. Sure, an acoustic Joshua Radin playing in the background perhaps feels especially obvious, as does my glass of brandy. Sue the new virus. I’m adjusting.
I’m out of work, like thousands of us. Adjusting to that, too. Humbled and applying for aid. Rationing my food to reduce the number of required trips to the grocery store. In moments of optimism, I reflect on my time spent living in France in my 20s. So inconceivable was it to me that stores would be closed on a Sunday. I’d been living in New York, where everything is accessible at any hour of the day or night. And then there was Amazon Prime, which changed things yet again. But then, in France, I began to love Sundays. I began to love Saturday evenings, because it buzzed with the anticipation— was I prepared? Did I have everything I needed for the following day? I had to acclimate, and found the beauty in the surrender of the slower pace. My mind wandered more, my imagination nourished by the boredom, rather than dulled by it. I actually felt rested for the following week.
Little did I know.
This is not a dreamy Sunday. Most stores are closed. Every day. It’s not entirely clear when that will change. There are real issues of survival, and we haven’t even reached the apex of this thing. We are living in a science-fiction film. I’m having moments of panic. I’m having moments of peace. But I am mostly just doing what I can. Preparing for dozens of Sundays. Isolating. Cooking. Washing. Zoom-ing. And also taking breaks from all that. From the doing. Accepting a slow descent into stillness. Into silence. Into a new- albeit hopefully temporary- normal.
Mother Earth is bringing us to our knees. It’s the closest thing to an act of God that I’ve seen in my lifetime.
My phone is six years old. Eighty in phone years. The keyboard is so buggy it often takes fifteen minutes to write a text. It freezes. It shuts down at will. It must be in the EXACT right position to charge, so temperamental it has become in it’s twilight years. Apple-conspiracy-marketing aside, if things really hit the fan, I need a new one. Since I hopped on the phone to Adele at T-Mobile (good GOD, could you imagine if I meant the singer?!) and set about choosing a new one. She was patient with me for a solid 45 minutes, as I kept reading reviews and waffling between two models in real time. And then, what color?? (Oh, the banality of our focus in times of strife.) “Take your time,” she said, “I’m the same way when I try on new clothes.” I could have kissed her through the phone.
When we were through, and she read her script, “Is there anything else I can assist you with today?” I couldn’t help myself. The world is so stressed right now, I began. We are all tense. We are all on edge, and gripping. You are so kind, and I cannot tell you how much I appreciate that kindness.
Adele paused. She agreed. Told me where she was located. The feeling there was the same. “You are such a happy person,” she said, much to my surprise. “This is the only way through. To fight for our happiness, and keep spreading it.” I started to cry. “Don’t cry,” Adele implored, “Just keep fighting for your happiness.”
I don’t know what will happen next. Or how I’ll survive financially and otherwise if this thing lasts as long as it potentially could— And I’m very aware that I’m in a better position than most. But speaking to Adele, I am reconsidering my goals for this time. More, “How can I assist?” and less “Will I be okay?” The latter query won’t go away, at least for a while, but the former goes a long way in soothing it.
Phoebe has requested I stop staring at a screen, as I promised a half an hour ago. I’ve been gazing blankly, hoping a plan for “the fight for happiness” would appear, as if from General Patton himself. But this will take some time. In the moments between, I can be thankful for the pauses. For the slowdown. For the time to question my old normal and new. To daydream, create, catch up with old friends, let go of petty grievances, look inward at shadows long ignored.
Mostly, I’m hoping this is a time we can all notice the details. The scuffed table. The downcast looks at Trader Joe’s. The hopeful ones, too. If we can all see each other a bit more, and do what we can, there might just be a way out of this, after all.