It’s raining, lightly, and the late-March morning is finally warm enough for open windows.
My daughter lost a tooth and wrote a letter to the Tooth Fairy. “Can you draw a picture of yourself on this paper so I know what you look like?”
Down the street, a personal message chalked on the sidewalk, adorned with Mo Willems’s Elephant and Piggie, awaits a special celebrant: “Happy birthday, Jackson! We miss you!”
This is life in the eye of a storm. Out There is swirling chaos, but here, in the eerie calm, we are carefully recalibrating. Taking stock of what’s left and what to hold tightly when the tempest returns.
Out There, the sheer enormity is overwhelming. Literally beyond comprehension. The distance traveled by a microscopic protein; the number of humans infected, lives lost, and livelihoods vanished; the deepening deficit of ventilators; the mounting tally of lies told: All are escalating exponentially (likely outdated even by the time you read this). The United States, ever chasing hockey-stick growth, has achieved it in the macabre.
It’s all astronomical. A load too heavy to lift. A sadness too deep to bear. A rage too hot to touch. It’s too big for me, and I’m tapping out. I’m opting out of bigness.
As “Out There” spins ever more out of control, I’m finding fresh joy in the minuscule, and solace in the intimate.
While Out There, healthcare workers frantically, heroically, grapple with the growing chaos, and institutions panic and pull levers of power, regular American life under shelter-in-place has come to a standstill. Many of us are adjusting to something strange and unsettling–the stuff of fairytales (Grimm’s, not Disney’s) and David Lynch stories. It is… quiet.
Missing are the planes crisscrossing the sky, the police sirens screaming outside the window, the hurrying. What even is this life without hurrying?
We’re contracting our reach, narrowing our field of vision. Even so, for the fortunate among us, professional life sputters on. We’re expected to login, show up on calls, be productive. On the parenting front, social media and private conversations are dominated by the impossibility of simultaneously being a productive professional and an effective remote-learning teacher. (Not to mention that there’s a reason people who aren’t teachers aren’t teachers. Teaching requires schooling, skills, and superhuman forbearance.) No amount of higher education and careful career counseling could have prepared us for this.
I get it. I know all too well the stress of meeting work expectations while also maintaining a home for four kids. I’ve come out on the wrong end of that struggle more times than I’d care to confess. But I’m doing my best to compartmentalize and close the computer during school hours. Rather than approach it as an inconvenience to be managed, I choose to see it as an opportunity to be savored.
We break from schoolwork to take a bike ride. The kids proudly announce that they’ve planted tomatoes, carrots, and snap peas in their mom’s garden. My boys, who complain incessantly about school-mandated music class, picked up their guitar and drum sticks and wrote a song. It was terrible, and I couldn’t be prouder. Meet the new education, same as the very old education.
COVID-19 is no “respecter of persons.” You can’t bluster or buy your way out of it, and even the young and robust are susceptible. It is the great equalizer, and facades of status are crumbling. We, as people, are stripped bare. Our societal failings exposed: As bigness succumbs to smallness, all we are left with is our humanity. In humanity is grace, and in grace, dignity.
Neighbors compile ad hoc food banks and establish “shopping buddies” for senior citizens.
A successful restaurant becomes a nonprofit to provide high-quality meals to people in need.
Thousands of Rosie the Riveters stitch and donate masks to hospitals.
Even Twitter, the Web’s cruelest medium, has been overrun by photos of homemade sourdough.
Last week, Liz Maupin, a comedy producer in Los Angeles, received an unexpected $35 refund. Under normal circumstances, that miniature windfall might be a brief moment of excitement, maybe even a dinner out. Instead, she tweeted an offer: “Does anyone need $35 right now for groceries, medicine, etc? I got an unexpected $35 refund from a utility company so if you’re in need, message me and I’ll Venmo you.” As she was inundated with responses from those in need, people reached out to fund additional “micro-grants.” Then, more people followed suit, offering up grants of their own.
It is all humanity, dignity, grace.
There is dignity in mourning, and grace in the care of our most vulnerable. Dignity can be found amid imperfection. In ritual, in listening, in small gestures and simple pleasures: grace.
Three text messages from a friend, apropos of nothing, announce:
I’m making bread in my toaster oven. It came out well.
I’ve started using cloth napkins.
I’m playing Hot Wheels with the boys.
On Facebook, another friend wrote,
A moment of beauty: With all the hard work we’ve been doing for Covid-19 communications, and the increased demands on my business, and the increased parenting pressures, and setbacks and discouragement, and focus on mortality, and isolation—my coffee bushes are in full bloom. Beauty, wonderful fragrance, the buzzing of bees, the promise of a future coffee harvest, and a refreshing and needed reminder of the beauty, preciousness, and perseverance of life on our sacred Earth.Don’t like ads? Become a supporter and enjoy The Good Men Project ad free