“What do you miss most?” our young yoga teacher asked the elderly yogi students whose several faces appeared along the top of my computer screen.
“I miss going through my day without having to think about everything I do,” replied one student, smiling into the Zoom app on her laptop.
Yes, I thought, she’s right. That’s the thing I miss most as a result of this Covid quarantine. Every action now demands attentiveness to behaviors. Is my mask on right? Am I far enough away from that person? Are my gloves on? Am I touching my face? Did I touch that handle after I washed my hands? This is the story of my days now: extricating myself uncontaminated from each daily activity.
Simple actions demand my focused attention. I feel like a novice at living, like a student of phenomenology, concentrating, as I do, on my every move. I want these daily actions to recede from my thinking, so that I may attend to the things I used to devote mind time to – things I barely remember now. It’s similar to moving into a new house and having to consciously think where the light switches are each time you enter a room, only this virus demands complete attention to nearly every movement, all day long. In time, perhaps, it will become habitual. Right now, these living-in-this-new-world ways of being are still making themselves at home in my mind and they know no boundaries. Watching movies on television, I start in alarm when I see the characters shaking hands.
They don’t let me into the hospital building any more, even with my mask. For the past three days, I’ve had to drop Rosemary off for her daily radiation treatment and drive around Manhattan in a car bearing Massachusetts license plates with a Boston Red Sox logo, loaned by a generous friend so we can avoid the possible virus on public transportation. On Mondays, when Rosemary has both radiation and chemo, I will have to drive home after I drop her off, even though, by the time I get home and park, it will be almost time to return. It doesn’t sound that complicated, now that I write it, but these days nothing flows easily.
Doing the laundry requires extra planning: I go down at 6:00 a.m. and I sort carefully before I leave the apartment, to save time in the laundry room. We have extra loads now because we change our clothes each time we return from the hospital. Extra machines are required also so I can bleach the masks to reuse them. The groceries must be left in the hall to “ripen” as we call it, and then we can wipe down each can, bag, and box, with an anti-bacterial soap. Is it safe not to wash the bottles of water which were in a carton? How should I clean the produce? How long does the virus stay on cardboard? Who might have breathed on the broccoli?
On the other hand, I am grateful. These obsessions with sanitizer allow me to background deeper worries, to gloss over my scarier thoughts. Rosemary and I are at the hub of the target in the geographic epicenter of the invading virus: over 65, with underlying diseases and compromised immune systems, living in New York City, and venturing into the belly of the beast every day. If I weren’t struggling with plastic gloves and Lysol wipes, I’d have more difficult worries on my mind. How are our daughter and her partner in California, both with the virus, managing to keep four teenage boys quarantine? Is my sister, who works in a nursing home in Connecticut, safe? How will I cope if Rosemary gets sick? Who will take care of Rosemary if I get sick? What will I take into the hospital should I have to go? Is there a place to charge cell phones in rooms with ventilators? Who will let us know if the other one dies?
And somewhere in between the extremes of wiping door handles and facing a triaged death, we improvise our days. We FaceTime with the two littlest grandchildren and watch them learning about different types of birds’ nests and practicing how to draw babies and puppies. We check on friends from a distance, join writing groups, yoga classes, and religious services through our computers, and telehealth with our medical providers. We cuddle on the couch and laugh through episodes of Grace and Frankie. We have coffee on the balcony and walk in the park across the street. We cross off the completed days of radiation on the calendar that hangs inside the front door.
And I write. With a faith that the word will shine through the darkness, I sit at my desk and write.