Everything is moving so fast with the spread of COVID-19. Its true impact hits me when I read the stories coming out of Italy. A society where family and community are so strong, yet now they cannot physically be together, not even to bury their dead. A very human practice now off limits in a time of immense physical and mental stress.
I lay in bed several nights ago, before I started writing this little journal, unable to sleep, thinking about what’s happening in our country, and around the world. And something dawned on me:
One reason why I am so weirded out by the whole situation now is that it’s bringing back memories of some very disturbing times from the past, when we lived in places where life was so uncertain. In particular, Haiti during the turbulent times after Baby Doc Duvalier fled. Shortages, everything closed, curfew, the airport closed and no way to get out, hunkered down for several weeks, confined to quarters by the order of the US Embassy, the only way we got food after the stuff I always hoarded was gone was through Rita, the wonderful young woman who worked for us; she walked to our house up and down that mountain road north of Petionville when the buses stopped running, gunfire every night, blockades of burning tires, martial law.
Wouldn’t it seem that that experience, and others, would prepare me for the current situation? Yes, and I thought so, too.
Once the situation calmed in Port-au-Prince, life returned pretty much to normal, with the hustle and bustle of the open-air markets, the persistent street vendors, the colorfully painted tap-taps sputtering up and down Delmas and John Brown, main roads leading from the port to the mountains looming above P-au-P.
But this is different. Roadblocks were visible. Gunfire could be heard. Both dodgeable things.
The virus is invisible, until it becomes visible, as in the fever, labored breathing, and general malaise once the virus grips its host’s mucus membranes with its little red tentacles.
Not so dodgeable.
Spring arrived, yes, officially. Even here in Florida, there’s a version of spring. Temperature soar into the 80s, but a cooling breeze tempers it all by wafting through the tall oaks and mulberries standing likes palace sentinels next to my house. The berries fall and splash out their purple innards for weeks until the walkway resembles some sort of paint- ball game gone wild.
I woke on Day 5, determined to accomplish something, anything, something written, read, or at least pondered. Distractions arose almost at once, when I opened up my browser and the headlines pushed my good intentions away. A flurry of Facebook postings, nothing different from my usual attempts to share information, kept me busy for a while.
And I did manage to crank out a synopsis of the previous two days under siege.
Then I picked up M. F. K. Fisher’s How to Cook a Wolf, published in 1942, her goal ostensibly to share tips about economy in the wartime kitchen, with rationing looming in the background. At the moment, most of those tips don’t apply to most people. But perhaps they will as time passes. On the last page of the revised 1954 edition, she wrote:
I believe that one of the most dignified ways we are capable of, to assert and then reassert our dignity in the face of poverty and war’s fears and pains, is to nourish ourselves with all possible skill, delicacy, and ever-increasing enjoyment. And with our gastronomical growth will come, inevitably, knowledge and perception of a hundred other things, but mainly of ourselves. That Fate, even tangled as it is with cold wars as well as hot, cannot harm us.
The day passed with glacial slowness. After a quick trip to a plant nursery, where I bought six azalea bushes and a flat of impatiens, I frankly could not muster the effort to cook anything, although two perfectly fine pork chops sat in the refrigerator, waiting for me to transform them into something ambrosial.
So I turned my oven on to 400°F and baked a frozen pizza. And felt a frisson of normalcy, even to the slightly blistered roof of my mouth.
I must admit that just before I climbed into bed, overwhelmed by the enormity of what’s happening with this virus, I sank – for a moment – into a fit of gentle weeping over the tragedy befalling so many people in so many places. It’s going to take everything we have as a species to lick this thing.
As Illinois epidemiologist Dr. Emily Landon told The Washington Post::
‘The healthy and optimistic among us will doom the vulnerable,’ Landon said. She acknowledged that restrictions like a shelter-in-place may end up feeling ‘extreme’ and ‘anticlimactic’ — and that’s the point.
‘It’s really hard to feel like you’re saving the world when you’re watching Netflix from your couch. But if we do this right, nothing happens,’ Landon said. ‘A successful shelter-in-place means you’re going to feel like it was all for nothing, and you’d be right: Because nothing means that nothing happened to your family. And that’s what we’re going for here.’
And it’s really hard to wrap your head around that, especially in American culture: We’re individualistic and we pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and find a way to make it through. And that’s not going to work right now.’
Stay safe. Be well. And stay home if you can. Please.