Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty five thousand moments so dear
Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure? Measure a year?
(Seasons of Love, Jonathan Larson, Rent)
This isn’t the first time I have referenced lines from Seasons of Love in a post. This past year (2020) would have been momentous even without the pandemic as it was both the year we lost my dad and the year of “firsts” without my mother in law, who passed away in 2019. How do you measure – and remember – a year that seemed to last far longer than any year should?
But here we all are after a year brought to us by COVID-19. It is not as if there is an official “pandemic start date”, but I remember a few things specifically in the lead up to the shut down here locally. I recall my sister in law telling me that it would be a good idea to go to the store and stock up because things were about to get chaotic. I have social media posts come up that I made about schools deciding to close and pivot to online learning. I look back at my journal and read entries such as one on March 19th where I wrote “please let it end sooner rather than later” (ha!) So all semblance of normalcy for us ended in mid-March.
My “germaphobe” and OCD nature got oh so much worse. Picking up groceries became an hours long process. I had begun doing Walmart and Kroger pickups for convenience about once a week anyway but after that second weekend in March, I did not step foot inside a store for groceries. In those early days, it was difficult to get a pickup time and you would have to sometimes check in around midnight to get an order for a few days later. One of our local grocery stores tried Instacart but it was a miserable failure and the one time I did it, I never did get my order! Unloading and wiping down groceries was part of my ritual, although wiping down the outside of a package containing a whole raw chicken seemed a bit extreme, even to me.
We had no idea when the pandemic began how difficult it would be, how long it would last, and how it would change our lives. This year has been devastating, heartbreaking, isolating, infuriating, and gratitude inspiring. New ways of doing things were born out of necessity and we realized that our ability to adapt was quite remarkable. So much was brought into sharp focus:
Creating – I “kind of” learned to sew. Surgical masks were both being reserved for medical personnel and impossible to find to purchase. A friend of mine started a Facebook group to make masks so I renewed my tumultuous relationship with the sewing machine. My first few efforts were laughable and even later attempts were hardly professional. But it was a good distraction and helped me feel like I was doing something productive for society. I also started cross stitching again – a long neglected hobby that I could do in the evenings. I ended up making several Christmas gifts over the summer and fall. And after those projects were done, I turned back to crochet and am in the process of making an afghan.
Cooking – I started cooking more both out of necessity – we weren’t even having carryout in the early days of the pandemic – and out of enjoyment. I have several months of blog posts about what I would make every night for dinner. As time went on and we felt more comfortable getting takeout and wanted to support local restaurants, we did begin ordering more food in – and established Takeout Night on Fridays.
Isolation – I am hardly ever alone, despite my best efforts 😉 but I know that isolation and loneliness have been heartbreaking for so many during this time, especially my mother. We lost my dad only a few weeks before the lockdowns started , which was a mixed blessing. We felt fortunate that we didn’t have to navigate the impossible logistics of having him seriously ill in the hospital as things began to shut down but this left my mom totally alone. We were all fearful of contracting the virus but we were all also very concerned for her and possible implications of infection with her autoimmune diseases. For the first few weeks, I only saw her as I dropped off groceries in her driveway from a distance. Finally on April 5th, we had a socially distanced visit on her back deck and as time went on we began spending more and more in person time together. We were extremely cautious and over time she became part of our “bubble”. That evolved into us setting aside time on Saturdays for what started as dinner and a movie but in recent months has transitioned to “Schitty Saturdays” – watching Schitt’s Creek and having dinner!
Faith – I started journaling more consistently and praying more during this past year. I have a complicated spiritual life (who doesn’t?) but I have found that faith persists in times of trouble. The church I attend, St. Peter’s Episcopal, has been extremely responsible in conducting services safely and was shut down – as were many other churches – completely except for virtual services for a very long time. I have worked devotional and prayer time into my daily routines and appreciate the fact that I can still watch services from home.
Patience – it seems every other day in the beginning, I asked the questions, “when will this end” and “what will it look like when it is over” in my journaling. I discovered the concept of liminal space which I never really delved into like I meant to. On April 11th, I wrote:
“We are in a liminal space, a space of transition, neither in the past nor in the future. While we wait, we can hope, believe, and dream but we can also grieve, weep and mourn. So we wait, knowing that joy comes in the mornings but not knowing when that morning will arrive. So we wait.”
Resourcefulness – we learned new ways to celebrate occasions we took for granted before the pandemic. In the very beginning we had a socially distanced Easter egg hunt at my mom’s house….thinking by the fall and winter holidays, surely things would be back to normal. But when that did not happen, we modified our celebrations, having an outdoor Thanksgiving and then the First Annual Garage-mas ™.
Flexibility – both Trever and I were fortunate that we could work from home. And we decided as a family that the girls would both be full time virtual students – Sarah at UCA and Abby at GHS. This has not been without its challenges. Staying focused, self pacing, and other issues abound when one is pursuing either work or education from home. And I am so very grateful I didn’t have littles that I was trying to navigate through this year!
Sacrifice – I am both in awe of and eternally grateful for the way which my family has sacrificed for the health and safety of each other and for the greater good of this pandemic. My girls lost a lot. They each lost an entire year of in person learning, time with friends, and the usual activities of a high school and college student. Abby lost her entire senior year, her last year of band and theater, and for several months, didn’t see her long time boyfriend (although we eventually incorporated him into the bubble). Trever gave up going to his train shows and train club meetings. And they all did it willingly. It wasn’t always easy but I am very proud of how they handled the challenges without complaint or self pity.
Appreciation for Home – We enjoy traveling so often I would neglect things that needed to be done around the house in anticipation of the next trip or vacation. We learned to really appreciate our home and yard and put more time and attention into “blooming where we were planted.” We are also extremely fortunate that we have the cabin up in northern Arkansas to go to when we need a change of scenery.
Gratitude – I am so very grateful that our family was able to be in a situation where we could work from home, we could access curbside pickup from everything from groceries to gardening supplies, and we were not impacted financially by the pandemic. I am grateful for all of the front line workers, from those in healthcare, to teachers, to employees in stores who kept the country running. And I am beyond grateful that, thanks to nonstop efforts by scientists and researchers, that a vaccine is now available which will finally get this virus under control.
All that said, the silver linings hardly illuminate the clouds that were the physical, emotional, and mental devastation that the pandemic has wreaked. So many lives were lost in the most cruel and unimaginable way – alone, without family or friends. There are so many people who are still struggling because of lost jobs or wages. And so many suffered from isolation and lack of support. Although this year has been hard for everyone, my difficulties pale in comparison to those who lost loved ones and livelihoods.
Which brings me to the not so pretty side of my feelings about the pandemic. Anger. I am so very angry at the way the previous administration handled everything from masking to research to communication to shutdowns. I am angry that so many people believed misinformation and flat out lies which led them to make decisions that actively hurt other people. I am angry at those who believed that their individual liberties were somehow being infringed when they were asked to wear a piece of cloth over their face for a few moments in a store.
Truth be told, my anger has been renewed since the mask mandate has been lifted in Arkansas. This has led to a widespread “unmasking” in businesses, schools, and public places long before the CDC would recommend such. Regardless of how righteous I think my anger is, it serves little purpose. So, I try to avoid social media discourse from people who are on the other side of this issue, and we are continuing common sense safety practices. We are doing our part by getting vaccinated, and slowly, carefully, and thoughtfully are working toward getting back to a more normal state of affairs, whatever that may look like.
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012, my life and the lives of those around me were divided sharply into a “before” and “after” There wasn’t a return to normalcy as much as an acceptance of the oft used term “new normal”. Although it isn’t over, it does appear that the “after” of the pandemic may be in sight. For those of us fortunate to have emerged relatively unscathed on the other side of this crisis, we should strive not so much to return to “normal” as to turn toward “better” and a world in which we value what is important, love those around us, and know that together, we can not only survive hard times but thrive.
Karri Temple Brackett
April 2, 2021