Like everyone else on Planet Earth, the coronavirus landed in my life like a bomb. My months-long preparations for Women’s History Month went poof. Instead, I was now fretting about the availability of bread and toilet paper. In a matter of a few days, life as we knew it collapsed.
During the first week of isolation, I found that I lacked the focus for anything more challenging than scrolling through social media and pausing occasionally on stories that confirmed the feeling I had right then: no one knows what the hell is going on and we’re doomed. I thought of my goddaughter, who gave birth to a premature baby just as the world was waking up to the danger of coronavirus. I thought of my youngest brother, a high school teacher in New York City, who worries that he’s been exposed. I thought of my other brother, forced to cut his book tour short and return from California to his home in New Zealand. I thought of my friends and family members, many of whom are in the vulnerable category due to their age or physical and mental health, now furloughed, laid off, and isolated.
This morning my husband and I went to our local grocery store during its “seniors and vulnerable people-only” hours. The store’s employees were patient and kind. We tried our best to stay six feet away from the other shoppers. There was no toilet paper, but plenty of other things, including a bouquet of “Get Well” balloons floating above the check-out stand. This seems poignant in a way I can’t yet fathom. Everyone looked worried, and a few wore facemasks, some clearly homemade. There were no children or people under age 60.
It was good to see other human beings.
As always, I turn to poems for answers. In Seamus Heaney’s Opened Ground, I found “The Toome Road,” which describes how quickly our lives can shift, and how tenuous our sense of safety is:
I had to look up “omphalos.” The word means central point, hub, focal point. How did I find this particular poem that ends with an obscure word I’ve never read before, whose meaning turned out to be the thing I sought: focus?
Perhaps, like Keats, I’ll just enjoy what he called Negative Capability: “being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.”
Please share how you are coping in this strange time.