Questions in the time of Covid-19
What’s so different about our daily lives today?
So much that it’s hard to imagine let alone describe. And yet...
Let’s face it: we still brush our teeth, shower, dress, get meals, take vitamins, hold hands, pay bills, do laundry, read books, watch TV, and sometimes write...
Note the variation on a theme in this age of physical distancing: we have given an entirely new meaning to tasks of daily living. In our senior household, the minutiae of everyday life have consumed all other concerns. Commonplace rituals have thus been irrevocably re-configured.
Showering, brushing teeth and taking morning vitamins — which in the remote past took place well before noon — now often fit themselves in somewhere between 7 a.m. and 2 p.m. or in extremis, midnight. (Only once actually!)
On waking each day, I — whose nighttime attire runs to tees converted to nightshirts — may slip into a pair of shorts — “just until I get the morning coffee.”
I then dally over my morning brew on the deck while scrolling through emails, mulling over projects — connecting me in an otherworldly way to persons outside our social circle of two.
Yes, I procrastinate: I put off to the undefined world of later something I cannot quite get myself to do now. However, what if procrastination is installed as a way of life? It is clear: if later becomes the usual time for the activity one needs to get done; then it may never arrive. Actually, not so clear.
So, the morning shower is now an afternoon phenomenon. I say: blame the pandemic.
A near-casualty of this recent family dysfunction is paying bills on time. This task has recently devolved upon me — an unfortunate choice, because of my inclination to disorder. Nevertheless, my companion for better or worse acknowledges I have risen to the challenge and kept us out of debtors’ prison to date. I will not examine the excruciating machinations involved.
Blame the Absence of Structure
To what specifically do I attribute this indisposition? It is clearly the absence of structure, which seems tied to attending or scheduling meetings, and the absence of meetings appears devastating to sustaining a sense of order.
Recently, of course, the tech-y genies have given us Zoom — which may be our way back to structure, self-discovery and to reinstating morning brushing!
In the past, I admit, maintaining order never occupied my thoughts so much. I felt if I achieved a sense of “organized disorder” in our lives, I was doing well.
I am here to tell you mandatory confinement has had diminishing effects upon the former while expanding the parameters of the latter.
Not to worry though: periodically when not stressing about things related to our car, What’s-his-name has begun to vacuum for us. This is an unusual but welcomed change in the balancing act that is our marriage.
Over the years, it has been a true division of labor, with the one I dote on doing the worrying for us. He has left me to bring in flowers to brighten up a dusty corner. Desperation-driven, however, I admit to peremptorily selecting Netflix to replace the 24-hour news cycle my companion prefers.
See what I mean: it is I who saves us from the spiritual paralysis that can be contracted by exposure to too much bad news. He is occasionally allowed legitimate areas to bemoan.
I can tell he still thinks about kicking the tires of the car that mostly sits in the yard. Otherwise, he periodically envisions out loud major mechanical failures that may have occurred while we sleep.
Truly, this man in my life is not content unless he is worrying. Remarkably, that has remained a staple of his daily life. Who would think about this as a positive? Who can say the pandemic has not provided us with enough to worry about?
Do you think I am speaking lightly, perhaps dismissively, of a devastating time in our lives and collective history? If so, you are right. However, in the depths of my delinquent heart, I am worried sick. But my mechanism for managing anxiety doesn’t require kicking anything. Rather it is to yield to absolute silliness, to daily absurdity — going so far as to storytelling.
And this is our story: we do brush our teeth twice every day. Yes, but not always at what may seem to you an acceptable time. We eat breakfast each day, as well, but sometimes closer to noon, which pushes lunch up to 4 or 5, sending the dinner hour closer to 8:30 or 9.
Do you think we should skip a meal? Sometimes we do — though if truth be told — we may substitute a Klondike Bar. Other times, we have a picnic breakfast during the luncheon slot on the deck!
And I have installed Paddington Bear to a place of honor in our living room. He sits — sometimes stands — in an unoccupied chair that longs for a visitor.
Do you know Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedians in Cars Drinking Coffee?” Well, think of my program: “Bears in Chairs Standing Guard.” Silly? Absurd? Childish? All of the above! Yet the sight of Paddington each day is somehow deeply comforting.
Calling in the Big Guns
And speaking of children, we are a senior couple following the directives of ours: three sets including a social worker, an industrial designer, a college professor, a physicist, a physical therapist and a fire captain directing disaster responses for the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
They pull rank. These are the big guns steeped in-the-sciences, who in the absence of Federal policies, issue meaningful guidelines to aging parents living on an island: No travel off-island permitted except in an emergency. No one allowed to enter our home or car — no matter how well loved.
We fortunately have our Treehouse, which will accommodate small groups of those we have not seen in half a year.
And: No eating at restaurants until the summer throngs disembark. But joy is allowed! When our distanced and masked reunions take place, we are permitted to burst into laughter — loving and kvelling all over the place.
Are these the trappings of normal? It now appears to be a word emptied of meaning. We accept the parameters and fill with gratitude that our loved ones are close by.
In terms of absurdity, we are in good company. In a New York Times essay, Rivka Galchen explains the structure of Giovanni Boccaccio’s “Decameron.” Written in 1349 during the bubonic plague, it is comprised of “stories that are silly, some [of which] are sad and none are focused on the plague.”
She adds, “In all these cases, the stories ... are lifesaving, even as their being entertaining is one of the main ways they can save a life. Reading stories in difficult times is a way to understand those times, and ... a way to persevere through them.”
Then telling our own stories may not only be a way of channeling trauma or documenting an unimaginable historic moment. We may find our way out by embracing the absurdity of it all, which may be our act of survival — a life affirming effort. Galchen says, “Memento vivere — remember that you must live — is the message of “The Decameron.”
Is it also a message for our time?