In this Together

Everything I needed to know about living through a global pandemic, I learned in 1983. I just didn’t know it then.

We’re all in this together.
I keep seeing that.

Americans were a little late to the party, but we sure came in loud and proud. We showed up.
We felt a little mad at China. Sanitize, why don’t ya. And we felt a little sorry for Italy. We watched them play music from their balconies as they were stuck at home.
Then we watched as it slammed into a nursing home in Washington state.
Not long after, New York City caught the literal fever.
Then New Yorkers fled and took the fever with them to other places.

And here we all are.
All of us.
Missing church.
Rationing toilet paper.
Mourning with the graduating seniors.
Posting our own senior pictures and pretending the class of 2020 is comforted by that.
Figuring out a totally different path to education.
Not touching other people.
Rallying around the ones who need more than we do.
Confusing our days from our nights and sleeping in.
Wondering how long our world will look like this and function like this. Questioning how long we are capable of keeping this up.

We’re all in this together.

What a strange phrase that is. Like a spanish conversation that walks past me before I can pluck the message from the few words I know. It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around it.

Because it’s never been true for me before.

I think back over the scores of tragedies that have pierced our world over the years. Floods. Bombings. Tornados. Sandy Hook. San Bernardino. Orlando. Hurricanes Katrina, Michael, Irma, and Maria. So many news stories that became hashtags and benefit concerts and prayer vigils. But those things were not in my house or my back yard. Those people were not my people. I felt the sadness. I rallied around from afar. But I wasn’t in it with them. Not like this.

I am now.

We truly are all in this together.

All at risk. No one immune.
From the disease or the grief of knowing someone who is suffering or has succumbed.
All of us need the rules that are in place to protect us.
We need our leaders.
We need each other.
And we need God.

I was out for a bike ride on Tuesday evening, pedaling up central Florida’s excuse for a hill and trying to outrun my grumps. I was grumpy at one kid for–well, never mind–and I was grumpy at another kid for running my AirPods dead. Instead of the queued up playlist I had planned for my ride, I was forced to stuff my technology back into my pockets.
I had nothing to listen to other than the hum of my bike tires and the crickets warming up for a night’s symphony.

It was almost dark. Dusk was filtering through the trees in shades of lavender. No one was out. I was alone on the road. And in my mind, I was suddenly back in a wooded side yard of Lee Avenue in Tallahassee, Florida in 1983. I was in the 6th grade.

My friend, Rondelle, lived in an old section of Tallahassee. Her street was lined with old brick homes flanked by old oak trees and owned by old people. There was nothing on that street that wasn’t old. Except for us.

On Friday nights, we slept over at her house, because there was something so exciting about roaming a neighborhood that went to sleep at 8 p.m. There were always at least 4 of us. Sometimes 6. And we always went out after dark to play a game invented by her older brothers called Ten Speed.

Ten Speed was hide and seek after dark in teams. We always set a boundary of some sort, because we weren’t the FBI. We couldn’t look exhaustively. There were really only two rules in the game:
(1) Respect the boundaries.
(2) Stay with your team.

On the hiding team you could hide anywhere, from under someone’s patio furniture to up in the ancient, spindly arms of a live oak. On the seeking team, you could do anything within your imagination to draw out the competition. You could spit in the bushes or use a stick to whack at shapes in the darkness. You could tell jokes or whisper threats. Anything to solicit a snort or a shifting in the leaves.

It’s hard to say which side of the game I liked better. It was 100% exhilarating. I always felt like I was 5 minutes from an arrest or a grisly accident. I almost always wet my pants.

I had never been a fan of regular hide and seek. I didn’t like games that were every man for himself. But Ten Speed was different. In Ten Speed, we were all in it together.

Thinking back on those days I wonder how I would have adapted to a pandemic quarantine. If I wanted to see my friends, I had to go find their physical bodies. If I wanted to talk to them, I used one of the two corded, rotary-dial, avacado green phones in my house and I talked to them within earshot of every other member of my family. I don’t know how I would have lasted for weeks on end without access to these games and these people.

When I finished my ride on Tuesday night, I was no longer thinking about the kid that did the thing or the one that used up the juice to my ear buds. I was thinking about people. And how people persevere and overcome. And about the fact that maybe things aren’t so different in 2020 from my childhood days running along Lee Avenue under the hazy glow of a street light.

The 2020 forecast is nebulous and uncertain. I won’t be the one to predict it or figure it out. So I’ll keep doing what I’m doing, with everyone else in the world, and wait for this cloud to lift. And it will lift. I’m going to try not to look too far past my handlebars and listen to the voice of a child reciting the rules of a long-forgotten game:

Respect the boundaries.
Stay with your team.

We are in this together.

The Darkness and the Light

There’s a lot of bad things going on the world right now. A lot of people sick and dying from a disease they’d never heard of when they were opening their Christmas gifts on December 25. A lot of people losing jobs. A lot of people in fear of losing jobs. Weddings and graduations that are either cancelled or so altered they are unrecognizable.

There’s also a lot of good things going on the world right now. Families reconnecting. Mothers seeing their teenage sons during daylight hours for the first time since last July. Kids sitting down at their dining room tables to work 1000-piece puzzles. Neighbors introducing themselves to each other. People eating oreos. People walking off the oreos. People cooking fresh food and then taking their time to eat it. People learning how to navigate hard situations. Together.

I filled my gas tank up a week ago using a paper towel to touch the pump handle. My tank is still full a week later. Because there is nowhere for me to go and no one to take there.

And I keep saying that as long as nobody gets sick, we will not complain.

Does the bad outweigh the good? Does the good make the bad worth it? If you end up experiencing both, how does it balance out?

I don’t know.

I was walking the dog this morning, for the second time. Because my dog is a little demanding sometimes. And along the way, I met a neighbor who wanted to talk about our garden (that’s another post for another day). So because she had nowhere to be and no one to be there with, she walked my dog with me. My own family doesn’t do that. And we talked the entire time.

It was weird.
And wonderful.
And one of the glories shining out of the darkness right now.

As I finished the last tenth of a mile on my own, I pictured this pandemic as a labyrinth, both bright and beautiful and also dark and painful. And I pictured myself walking into it.

If I knew that inside the labryinth there would be stations along the way that were pleasant and beautiful, full of light and conversation and joy and a love that can only rise up out of trial, maybe little tables along the way to stop and have coffee, or Mountain Dew Zero, and that I might discover someone I truly apreciate, but didn’t know how much until I was inside the maze,
but between stations it would be alarming and dark and impossible to navigate without pressing up against the walls and somewhere along the way, I would get sick. Or one of my people would. And although the maze was packed with unexpected beauty and sweeping positive life changes, it would also be riddled with pain and darkness and fear. If I knew all of that, and knew I would be forced absolutely to experience both, would I still be willing to enter the labyrinth? Would the beauty be worth the pain?

I don’t know.

I guess we’ll see.

But as of today, I have not seen first hand the darkness. I am standing in the light.

That being said, I did have a moment–90 minutes worth–on Thursday that probably is worth a couple of paragraphs.

Before March 13, I was a public school mom with a tight carpool schedule and a few hours of quiet every day. Now I am Supervisor of Operations of Onine Crisis Schoolng for grades 6, 8, 10, and 12, all occurring within my ordinarily quiet home. I am a masterful grocery shopper and am learning to cook. The 12th grader has always been a square peg in a round hole where school is concerned. He is smart. He is level headed. And he is ADHD. In a real emergency, I’d run to him before I’d run to anyone else. But in an online math test emergency, he isn’t my man.

So, online crisis schooling isn’t going as smoothly for him as it is for the others. And my supervisory role has me more involved than either of us would prefer. On Thursday, it all kind of rose up from the depths and landed in a lump in my throat. I think it was the TEST DUE BY MIDNIGHT notification that did me in, and the review sheet that we couldn’t access to study for the test due by midnight, and the expression of blank resignation and apathy in the eyes of my senior, that I couldn’t mold into any form of productivity that day.

I walked out of my son’s room and into the kitchen to pop some Mexican food into the microwave. As I did, I felt the familiar hot sting of frustrated tears forming a posse behind my eyes. Oh no, I thought. This feels like it’s happening. It feels like there’s no stopping it. As I was trying to explain what Andrew and I had to do that day for his schooling, one of my daughters said, “Well, I guess we aren’t going to see you today at all.”

That was all it took. She went back to her lunch and I grabbed mine and headed out the garage door with it. I was looking for an escape. A place to cry about Forensic Science. I looked toward the river. That would be a nice place to rest, but they would find me. I was standing by my van, caught in indecision, when I decided to get into my van. I opened the sliding door to the middle row and got in, closing the door behind me.

I sat in that van for 90 minutes, crying into and still eating the frozen cheese enchiladas in my lap. I texted Todd to let him know I was there, because he had walked past me and hadn’t seen me. He got in several times to confer with me and then got back out to re-enter the fray and manage the things I couldn’t handle at the moment.

At the end of a day that was laced with failures and roadblocks, I found myself sitting by the river 6 feet apart with a couple of friends that knew I needed to be yanked up by my socially distant bootstraps and set on a different path. And it was nice.

If I get sick–if my people get sick–I’ll have to wonder if the light can outshine the present darkness. And though I am currently well, I am acutely aware of the ones that are not. And of the ones who worry that they won’t be. And of the ones that are nursing so many back to health and placing themselves at risk as they do so. I am acutely aware that it is not about the online tests or the lack of convenience or supplies.

There is darkness. There’s no denying that. And for many it is as thick and black and sticky as turpentine.

But along the way, the light is shooting up from little taped Xs along the ground.
In 6 foot increments.
I don’t know if it’ll be worth it all.
But it’s pretty bright in spots.

Stay safe.