We keep saying it: “This is an unprecedented time.” We open emails with, “How are you doing in the midst of this craziness?” We are all feeling a change, an uncertainty, a distance, and an internal conversation in regards to this most different year. “What a year today has been!” I have found myself remarking as I navigate the multitude of media, thoughts, chores, and general daily tasks that seem to carry much more weight.
Grocery shopping is an ordeal, as we must plan days (or weeks) in advance for pick-ups, bring our masks–but not our reusable bags–and plan for a store-directed navigation system. Spontaneity is not an option, and the usual quick phone call/text to get together is just not happening. I have seen neighbors out in driveways, in circles of chairs appropriately distanced apart, wearing masks as they converse and sit together. Our instincts to touch or hug and physically reach out are kept in check.
I am an introvert, deep-thinker, and I live alone currently. I am in general a homebody, but I love to get out and travel as well. I pour everything I have into my essential job as a nurse in a pediatric cardiac intensive care unit, then come home and take much alone time to recharge for the next shift or set of shifts. I am one of the lucky job-secure individuals who keeps working no matter what, as there are always babies born with sick hearts that need our attention and extraordinary interventions.
Amidst ongoing and heightened work activity, I feel a greater distance now from those in my circle. I have friends and family spread out all over the world, and even though we do not regularly or frequently keep up with each other, somehow it feels we are further apart even now. I tend to focus on those around me in my current vicinity, and can forget to or not communicate well with those further away geographically. It is not intentional, but I throw everything I have into the situation directly in front of me and can neglect to maintain other less close relationships. Then time passes, and I realize that someone texted me a “hello” months ago, which I never returned.
I do get to see my fellow staff members and also get to interact with parents, patients, and families. Our hospital allows one visitor at bedside with the patient, and two total individuals have visiting privileges. We have many procedural and protective measures in place, such as wearing a mask for the entirety of our shift. But we do still get to have conversations with our colleagues. There is an added intensity to each shift, and we have all felt the strain in our unique ways.
Despite my regular interaction with colleagues, this chapter in time feels more isolating. Perhaps it is because I know so many are focusing on their unique family or personal center. They are weeding through the chaos that has become the home-workplace, which also now serves as our school, hospital, restaurant, snack cupboard, and 24/7 presence with each other. Perhaps it feels more isolating because we cannot be as forward in public as before, and we cannot see the smiles on the faces of others because the mask hides so much of the facial expression. Or perhaps, it is because this is affecting the entire world, and I read of my friends in developing countries facing this virus with negligible support and few, if any, resources for their protection.
My parents moved from our childhood home in a busy city earlier this year, after being there for decades. We three girls planned to join them to help with the move, to help prepare the old house for sale and the new house for living. All of our intentions were placed on a long hold when the directives came down. It is strange to think that I may not see their new home for several more months, and may not ever re-enter my old home, which was our base for 36 years. It is tough on all of us daughters that we could not be there in person, and still cannot, as we hear of the ventures of the new place.
I used to be someone that regularly sent written letters and cards, gifts and encouraging quotes, notification of prayers and reminders to friends of my regard. In the advent of technology, I promised myself that I would continue to be one of the stalwart folks who used direct interactions versus texts and emails, but I have fallen into step with the quick and easy phone instead of the pen and paper. I have plenty of time to be true to my intentions, and I buy stationery and notecards, but then they sit in drawers awaiting use. I carry stamps in my wallet, plenty of them for each season, but still they go unspent.
I have lost friends to COVID, and I know many folks who have lost loved ones, both to COVID and unrelated causes, who cannot grieve in the ways they know. We cannot travel home, funerals occur via Zoom or some other platform, and we bury the dead in small ceremonies that may not even have family present. The natural course of dying and saying final goodbyes is interrupted, and health care staff is taking the place of family in sitting with the sick.
I have reached out to my fellow nurses and health care providers, teachers, and those considered essential, to encourage them and let them know of my solidarity with them. At the same time, I hold great concern for those in my circle who do not have work and are growing more financially unstable with each passing day. Every situation brings untenable strain on those living through it, regardless of whether they are alone or with others. But reading through and hearing of the struggles repeatedly, with sadder and sadder outcomes, or knowing that folks are choosing between paying rent and keeping their children fed – it is easy to reach a point of over-saturation.
I consider myself to be hopeful. I have held for years to the belief that good will win, that life will prevail, that love is stronger than hate. One of my most powerful experiences of this was in Haiti as I worked with a disaster relief team post-earthquake in early 2010. In the midst of the many amputations we performed and the severe injuries treated, women came to us in labor. Babies were still due to be born, and they were going to come regardless of turmoil or the business of the hospitals and field clinics. I assisted with one delivery, and when that baby was born, cheers went up in the hospital when everyone heard its first cry. Life would continue. As we buried the dead, new lives started.
I have deliberately begun to thank people I encounter who are working for our betterment. The cashiers at the grocery store, the numerous folks at the hospital who are exhaustively cleaning, preparing and serving food, and screening employees and visitors for hours. The delivery workers, the sanitation teams, the pharmacy techs. The restaurant workers serving us take-out, the local business owners whose livelihoods are attached to their small enterprises.
As I have sat thinking of the dead and those close to death, and as I hear tributes to them, I wonder how many of us will consciously choose to be more open with our appreciation and care for those in our lives who hold meaningful places, before it is much too late. If anything, this virus has shown us that life is fragile and that we cannot know the amount of time we have together. Will we compliment? Will we encourage? Will we speak words of love and grace, bringing genuineness and truth? Will we nurture and hold fast to the relationships we cherish? Will we edify? Will we forgive and repair?
I am a master procrastinator and have put off for long enough the written words I so wish to share with those in my life who bring me goodness. I am committing here and now to get those words onto paper (not screen) and sent in snail mail form to those I love.
However you feel comfortable letting your loved ones know of your regard, please consider doing so. Just a few words or a kind gesture can go a very long way. The size of the gesture does not matter. I am not calling for overwhelming or expensive demonstrations by any means. I am simply requesting that we all meditate on how this interval has brought us together and also kept us apart. That we take the time to act on our gratitude for the individuals in our lives who have brought us joy, who have been present to us, who we love and who love us. Let’s make a commitment to live and act deliberately and in care for each other.