Beyond the coronavirus — moving forward from these days of isolation | Michele Miller

Sidewalk chalk drawings from the neighborhood kids brings levity in a time of isolation.
Sidewalk chalk drawings from the neighborhood kids brings levity in a time of isolation. [ MICHELE MILLER | Times ]
Published March 25, 2020|Updated March 25, 2020

A few days of social isolating brought an uneasy clarity that the COVID-19 lifestyle is going to be with us for a while.

I had already finished the latest 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle and posted the results on social media. Caught up on a couple movies I’d been wanting to see and a couple I didn’t care to. Weeded the vegetable garden, probably a little too much. Cooked up a batch of my mom’s tuna casserole and tried my hand at baking bread for the first time, even though I’m gluten-free.

The old man was annoying me in the way familiarity breeds, kicking my butt at hands of Rummy and binge-watching war and mobster movies and child-prodigy guitar players.

The extra long walks through the neighborhood weren’t taking the edge off.

“Bing,” came the text from a high-school friend to inform me she was canceling her annual spring visit in April. I understand. She’s diabetic. I’ve seen Facebook posts of her kids and grandchildren standing on her front lawn, blowing kisses through a closed window.

Really, what we all wouldn’t do for a hug.

Video chatting with my brood will have to do in this age of uncertainty, where love and concern for one another is displayed with a show of separation.

It’s all for the common good, but it doesn’t feel natural. We’re a pull-up-your-bootstraps-and-pitch-in kind of people.

To be sure, we have individual and collective experiences with crisis to draw on. But this feels like uncharted territory. Whose experience do we tap into going forward?

“I grew up in the Depression, but this is different,” my 92-year-old dad said, during a recent phone call, while lamenting the “me first” panic wiping grocery shelves clean.

“They’ve even bought up all the distilled water,” I said, recalling a post I had recently seen on the Zephyrhills Community Facebook page.

As the story goes, Bob Morgan needed distilled water for his dad’s CPAP machine, but there was none to be found. He and his mom had scoured the stores twice a day. He was pretty ticked, because distilled water is essential for use in some medical devices.

Think about the needs of others. Don’t be so inconsiderate. Pass it on to all you know,” Morgan wrote in his post.

“Back in the day, people took care of one another,” my dad said.

Most everyone had victory gardens, he said, recalling instructions he got from his dad to take a paper bag filled with beefsteak tomatoes to a neighbor who didn’t have a garden.

“He told me, ‘Don’t knock on the door. Just put the bag on the porch, and don’t make a sound,'" he said. "That’s what people did. You would come home and find something you needed — food, clothes, whatever.”

They were making their own silver linings in dire times. So can we.

Some of it’s just a matter of perspective.

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During those long walks, I’ve felt goosebumps and wept a bit while listening to a Fresh Air podcast featuring the Philadelphia Orchestra playing Beethoven to an empty house. I’ve found myself smiling at the levity neighborhood kids bring to the pandemic with their sidewalk chalk drawings and enjoyed seeing others taking in outdoor time together.

Social media is no substitute for human contact, but my family spent an hour video chatting while simultaneously playing a video game called “Animal Crossings,” even though we are spread out over three states. I’ve also found a common bond with friends and family who have shared their finished and unfinished puzzles on social media in a we’re-all-in-this-together kind of way.

And that kid from Australia really can riff on the guitar.

Then there’s this from Bob Morgan’s Facebook page:

Distilled Water Update: Mom went on a water search when she went out to get essentials, none anywhere. We went to a doctor’s appointment in the p.m. When we got home, there were two gallons of distilled water on our steps. No note, an anonymous donor.”

“My mom was ecstatic,” Morgan told me later in a phone call.

And he wasn’t so ticked off any more.

“I’ve always been a little cynical about the human race,” he said, adding that more than 30 people responded to his post offering help. As did a couple of snowbird neighbors who dropped a gallon off before heading back to Canada.

“I know there are good people out there," Morgan said. "I know in tough times people will be there.”

In a world of uncertainty, this is the stuff we tap into. This is how we move forward.