In this age of social distancing, I’m beginning to wonder if I will ever be able to attend a live concert again. That makes me sad. Where else can you scream at the top of your lungs in public and not be taken away by the men in white coats? That’s a valuable release, and one I find increasingly necessary in these tense, strange times.
I also feel the need to goof off rather than blog today, so please hop over to read a post I wrote long ago, entitled Concert Therapy, for more on this subject. In the mean time, stay safe, stay sane, and scream if the spirit moves you.
I don’t think I realized how isolated I was feeling until I saw videos of the Italians singing from their balconies. It brought tears to my eyes. But I don’t have a balcony, and my nearest neighbor isn’t even within shouting distance.
Social distancing sucks. While the concept is important, and absolutely must be adhered to, the term sounds like a punishment. At a time when we all need each other more than ever, it sounds like we’re in jail. Solitary confinement.
But this is 2020, y’all, and we don’t have to take it lying down. We have technology! Instead of being socially distant, we can be distantly social. Because we truly are all in this together.
For example, last Sunday I attended virtual Unitarian Universalist Church via an app called Zoom. The sermon was in one living room. The music came from another. A story was read from a third. We all watched and participated on our computers. We were able to express our cares and concerns on camera or via text. One gentleman even attended from his hospital bed.
It was all unexpectedly comforting. We were all alone, and yet together, doing the same thing at the same time. Fellowship. For a brief shining moment, I found it impossible to feel sorry for myself. And it was also fun. I wasn’t bored. Those moments are few and far between these days.
I’ve heard of all sorts of creative ways that people are getting together virtually. A local librarian is doing virtual storytime for the kiddies live on Facebook. A friend of mine had a virtual talent show where people performed from their various living rooms. Neighborhoods are hosting teddy bear hunts. They’re putting teddy bears in their windows for kids to be able to walk around and see from the sidewalk. Virtual book clubs are cropping up, and people are watching movies together while sitting on Skype so they can still make snarky comments about the movie together. And if you’re not so technically inclined, of course, there’s still the good old fashioned telephone.
And now more than ever, it’s important to check in (distantly) with your elderly or disabled friends, neighbors, and loved ones. They feel isolated at the best of times. This must be a special form of torture for them.
Yes, I know that virtual socializing isn’t exactly like the real thing, but it’s what we’ve got right now. If you’d like to (virtually) interact with people face to face, I highly recommend Second Life. I’ve written more about it here, but in essence, you get an avatar, and move through the world with other people.
It’s not a game or a competition, and you don’t have to spend any money in there. You can go to church, go dancing, listen to live music, explore, or just sit in a virtual coffee shop and talk to people. It’s the closest thing to real life that you may be able to find these days.
I’ve made amazing friends in Second Life for more than a decade, and I’ve done a lot of exciting things there. So if you’re feeling cooped up, check it out! There’s no COVID in cyberspace!
A few days ago, I realized that if I was going to bake a cake for my husband’s birthday, I’d need a few ingredients. With that in mind, I decided to stop by my local Fred Meyer store after work. Social distancing and COVID-19 pandemic be damned.
What a nightmare.
The first red flag, the one that should have made me turn around and get out of there, was the fact that there were no shopping carts available. I had to stand in line in the lobby and get someone’s cart as they left the store. Not only was half the free world shopping ahead of a possible quarantine, but the store was severely understaffed. (And who could blame them? Would you want a cashier’s job right now, where you get to touch stuff that other people have touched all day long?)
And yet, I persisted.
When I finally got a cart, I noticed that there was no Purell available anymore to sanitize the cart handle. I was not the only one in that store that was pushing the cart with my shirt sleeves. A lot of people were wearing masks, too, and many were swerving as far away as they could from other patrons that they passed.
I had a hard time finding the products I required. As you can see from my photo below, whole aisles were empty. A lot of items were in unexpected places. I spent an hour finding what I needed, and as I fed off the tense atmosphere, I started grabbing things that I didn’t need, just in case. Because you never know.
All the paper products were gone. And hand sanitizer? Forget about it. The milk had been picked over, and the soup aisle was sparsely stocked. The only bread available was of the French variety. Oddly enough, there were plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables to be had. But you couldn’t buy a fruit rollup for love nor money. The section of the store where they sell clothing, auto parts and small kitchen appliances was completely deserted.
I saw two women arguing over the last bag of flour. It occurred to me that I’ve never been in a position where I couldn’t obtain whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted it, as long as I had the money. The thought of having the money and yet having to go without is new and scary. How fortunate I’ve been.
After spending an hour desperately searching for everything (whether I needed it or not), I felt like weeping. It was just so overwhelming. Our world has changed so quickly that it feels impossible to keep up. But my adventure had only just begun. Now it was time to see the cashier.
The lines were so long that they snaked down the aisles. And everyone was quiet. So quiet. I realized, suddenly, that the store did not have music playing as they usually do. The tension was so thick that you could cut it with a knife. It felt like a riot could break out at any minute, but how do you blame an invisible virus for turning your life upside down?
While standing in line, the thing I dreaded most happened. I had a coughing fit. I tried to suppress it by clearing my throat. I pulled my stomach in so far it felt like it was trying to pass my spine. My eyes were watering. And I had left my cough drops in the car. I coughed helplessly into my elbow. I suddenly felt unsafe.
Everyone around me looked at me nervously, and some tried to move away. I was afraid someone would call security or something, and I’d be dragged out of the store without my hard-won purchases. So finally, I broke the silence.
“I swear to God, y’all, this isn’t COVID. It’s allergies. I’m being treated by a doctor. There’s no lung involvement, and no fever. I swear to God.”
That confession seemed to break the tension. Everyone started talking at once. About their allergies. About their relief. About how crazy all of this is. One woman actually apologized to me for her visceral reaction to my cough. I told her that I didn’t blame her. I’d probably react the same way under the circumstances.
Finally, I was able to check out. Someone was waiting for my cart at the door. I have never been so happy to go home in all my life.
I told my husband about the crazy experience. I had dinner. I watched a little TV, and then I went to bed early.
Around midnight, the dogs started barking. My husband was coming in the front door, laden with grocery bags. He had been shopping at a store that stays open late. Because you just never know.
For the first time, I feel like I’m not writing for you, dear reader, but for future generations who will wonder what this pandemic was like. They’ll be able to read all the articles about disaster preparations, deaths, and political maneuvers, but there will be fewer things about what the experience was like for the average person. We are living history. So if you’re reading this decades from now, hello from across the years and miles, from Seattle, ground zero of the American outbreak. May heaven help us all.