She waved at me from behind the glass of the front door. We were on the phone together, we were ten feet away from each other, but the glass door kept us apart. The glass door kept the virus out, if there was a chance of me carrying it to my aging parents and my father with lung disease. I struggled to not let her hear my voice crack in sadness. I wanted more than anything to give my mom a hug of letting her know that I love her.
“Want me to throw a knife out the window?” she asked after offering me the chance to pick a bouquet of daffodils. “No, thanks, my fingernails are working just fine,” I replied as I gathered the bright yellow smiling flowers. They sit on my coffee table, a reminder of joy and new life.
And a distinct reminder of how life was altered drastically in a blink of our eyes. In a blink, the schools closed and the kids stayed home. In a blink, the offices closed and people started to work from home. In a blink, all our routines changed. All activities canceled. All restaurants closed to social gatherings. All public places closed. All people were told to stay home.
In a blink, the fear rose. The fear of catching an illness which could kill. The fear that the person near you could cough and spew minuscule, unseen particles of disease. The fear of drastic economic changes that could topple many people. The fear of losing jobs. The fear of stress increasing domestic violence and child abuse. The fear of how uncertain everything seemed to be. The fear of constant shifting change. The fear of death for families and friends. Gut-wrenching fear.
Yet, in a blink we also started to see life in a new way. In a blink we started to actually “see” our family. We started to think about activities that we could be doing together. We started daily family walks around the neighborhood that gave us moments to talk together. We spent hours creating cardboard mazes for the hamster, Lego constructions, and new fingerboard “skate parks.” We played games and watched more movies together. We roasted marshmallows for s’mores while lamenting that we couldn’t invite the neighbors over, but cherishing the moments together.
In a blink, we started to look at our neighbors differently. Did the elderly couple next door need someone to shop for them? In a blink, we encouraged each other to color on the driveway with sidewalk chalk, put bears in our windows for “bear hunts” for the little ones, and raised our glasses in salute of our community. In a blink, we started to see that only by encouraging each other to practice social distancing, uniting as a community with one goal, would we make it through this craze with as little loss as possible.
And how do we understand that the blink that happened in my world is so totally different than what happened to others. I have been able to adjust to the changes around me because I’m financially stable and have a truly wonderful support system. Others, though, have lost jobs, lost income, lost opportunities. Others have lost connections with friends and families. Others have struggled to find food for their families and lost access to healthcare and medications. Others are stressed about finding formula and diapers and baby wipes for their infants. Some are stressed by spending more time in dangerous situations of homelessness or abuse. For some people, their entire world has collapsed and they are drowning in their storm. The safety net systems are cracked and straining and the gaping inequality in our country has become exposed for all to see. There are some local resources here.
In a blink, our very world changed. And it’s up to us figure out what we’re going to take away from this moment in time. Will we hold each other tighter? Will we show genuine love and respect for all human beings? Will we reach out and support those who are doing such hard work? Will we remember that we are all created equal? Will we grow in our faith and our commitments? Will we work to address discrimination and intolerance and inequality?
Fast forward a week to the day my father turned 80. My family and my sister’s family piled in our cars and drove over. We placed 80 candles on two small cakes, but only 5 or 6 candles would stay lit given the wind and overcast drizzle. We held up signs and sang Happy Birthday through a closed window. One of the cakes fell off the porch smashing onto the ground and we laughed. Super Tall Guy smeared a piece of cake onto my head and I resisted the temptation for a food fight solely because I knew we didn’t have access to water to clean off! We laughed. We blew kisses and mimed hugs. Hopefully we were able to convey our love and thankfulness to these wonderful grandparents.
But, oh, I miss my mom’s hugs. The grief is real.