It has been difficult for me to be creative during these last few weeks. My mind travels to Maslow’s Hierarchy, and I seem to be stuck at “Safety” with a heavy dose of “Love and Belonging.” I’m nowhere near “Esteem” or “Self-Actualization.”
There have been so many changes recently that I feel like I fell asleep and woke up in an alternative universe—a place void of toilet paper and ground beef. A place where we are finally doing something about global warming, not because of a conscious effort, but because there is nowhere to drive.
I was away for a few days right at the beginning of March. By the time I returned home, the COVID-19 crisis was taking off. I went to Walmart to get some necessary supplies and was shocked to find that many of the shelves were completely bare. Yes, there was no toilet paper or paper towels, but other items were also missing…. rice, beans, flour, yeast, instant potatoes, peanut butter, the list went on. As a kid, I remember my mom going to the store early so she could get a big frozen turkey for Thanksgiving, but I have no memory of dealing with such food shortages. It felt very surreal. I bought what I could, and I was grateful for what I found.
Back at home, I used my knowledge of chemistry to concoct a surface disinfectant, and my understanding of microbiology to institute some cleaning procedures, such as sanitizing our eating surfaces both before and after a meal. I also made sure that we were using our foaming soap dispensers instead of the regular ones, as the foamers use much less soap. It seems that liquid hand soap is also in short supply. Since I couldn’t get TP locally, I went online to find that the regular packs were sold out. In desperation, I bought a case of cheap hotel stuff. Three days later, Amazon emailed me and informed me that I canceled the order…I did not. I told Julie to save our daily newspapers, just in case, and I got a quick lesson on how to fluff newsprint from Tom. He was raised in Poland during a time where TP was a luxury item for many.
My kids have always had free reign when it comes to food, and my William can quickly eat an entire broasted chicken in one sitting. I sat the family down and told them to snack only when they were genuinely hungry. Items like pasta needed to be reserved for meals.
I returned to a store and found two, one pound tubes of 70% lean hamburger. In the past, I felt that the frozen tubes of hamburger were suspect, and I would only buy the freshly ground very lean stuff. I thought that I struck gold with my “tube” find, and I plotted how I could use a single tube to feed my family of 5 adults, stretching 2 pounds of ground beef for two meals.
As all of this was going on, I watched the stock market crash. Investments are my primary source of retirement income, and to watch 30 years of sacrifice evaporate was soul-crushing. My financial advisor suggested that I use alternative sources of income… I told him that I didn’t have alternative sources. I re-framed my thinking, noting that many were in much worse financial straights and that I should be grateful that I had enough money to buy groceries, no matter how limited they were.
Our church canceled in-house services but went online. We gathered in our family room as I cast the service from my Macbook to the family room TV. At communion time, we each ate a Ritz cracker; it was the most “unleavened” item that we had. It was surreal to have the service in one corner of the TV and a comments thread running along the other side of the screen. However, it felt good to be part of a broader community.
During the early days of this crisis, we had to gather our adult children. One day I drove a 13 hour round trip to Ohio to get Grace. I spent most of the next day packing up my son, Will’s dorm room. On another day, we picked up our Kathryn from OHare. She, along with 7000 other Peace Corps volunteers, had been evacuated. She had spent eight months in Africa teaching Physics and Computer Science in Mozambique.
I set up temporary study stations so my two youngest could continue with their college classes online. Kathryn placed herself in “self-quarantine” to make sure that she wasn’t incubating anything from her 20-hour flight from Africa to Dulles in Washington DC.
A few days later, Governor Pritzker issued a shelter-in-place order, and Illinois shut down. I went to the Jewel to see if I could get some more food, and I was surprised to see the number of patrons whose carts were filled mostly with booze of various types. I guess they were going to party hardy in isolation.
Like many, I tried to connect with others via Zoom, and I have been making a lot more Facetime and phone calls. Julie continues to work, even though we have all begged her to see patients only online. She says that some clients don’t have that ability, so now she is seeing about ½ of her clients online and the rest in her office. I have tried to take on more of the household roles to ease her burden.
I’m surprised at how stressed I am doing simple tasks, like making dinner. Normally, I can do such things blindfolded. However, I think that I am using most of my psychological resources to get through the day. This is why making dinner seems like such a big deal, and why I don’t want to practice the guitar, organize my closets, or take creative photos. By the end of the day, I’m done.
I’m calling my oldest daughter more (she lives in another city). She is dealing with her stress. I’m also contacting people who I love and care about on a more regular basis. During the first week of shelter-in-place, the only contact that I had with my friend Tom was via the iPhone. During this second week, we carefully planned some get-togethers that were consistent with the new rules of the land. I met him in his backyard, and at an appropriate distance. I have known Tom for the last five years, but it seems like we have known each other for a lifetime. During life before COVID, we saw each other almost every day, and I think we were both missing that contact. Have you ever had a friend like that? I feel fortunate that I do.
I’m finding that I’m more sensitive as of late. Things hurt my feelings more, and when my kids or wife say something negative about me (even when joking), it cuts deep. I’m trying hard to make sure that we have our basic needs met, and negative remarks about my efforts hurt. I’m trying to process these feelings internally, and I’m making a strong effort to “walk away” when I want to bark back.
Two of my “at home” kids have been extraordinarily helpful—one, less so. I’m trying to focus my energy on all of the great help the first two are doing for the family, and I’m trying to be grateful that the third child is home and safe with us. It would be easy to snap at #3, but it would serve no purpose, and so I find myself praying a lot and walking away. I am making a strong effort to be grateful that my family is mostly together. Things could be so much worse.
Every day is presenting new challenges in this alternative universe called the COVID-19 pandemic. Like most, I’m doing my best. I’m so aware that people are essential, stuff is not. I’m feeling grateful that as of this writing, we are all in reasonably good health. I’m thankful that I had a cup of coffee this morning, and some peanut butter to put on my breakfast banana. I’m also grateful that I am in a warm and secure home. I’m am so happy to love and to be loved.
Priorities have shifted, what seemed so important a few weeks ago appears trivial at this time.
One day at a time.