Writing a column during a pandemic is an exercise in doing what’s not important. So much in my life these days pales in comparison to what’s going on in my town, my state, my country and my world. People are truly suffering.
The effects of the virus are terrible. Terrible in the true meaning of the word: distressing, severe, extremely bad. So too are the effects of fear.
Fear takes many forms. We just learned a new one last month: stockpiling toilet paper. My own fear is quite the trickster, showing up randomly as either rational or irrational.
The rational kind — like being frightened that people you love will get sick or die, lose their jobs or homes — seems sensible. Add to it personal fears. For me, a sister I cannot reach and another I can’t convince to stay home, though she’s respiratory-challenged and lives in a retirement community. All I’m saying is real fear is real.
Now, rabble-rousing, irrational fear is dicey, as if Stephen King lurks in my mind’s hinterlands, cooking up one chilling plot after another. It likes to appear out of nowhere and scare the bejesus out of me, just because it can. It’s a daily whack-a-mole game where the moment I get rid of one, another just as unnerving pops up.
This fear wants me to create a mini-Costco in my garage. It whispers in my ear that life will never be the same.
In order to change the radio station in my brain from FEAR.FM to something more calming, I’ve been practicing these ideas inspired by others.
I’m reaching out to family and friends. I have spent so much time on the phone lately, I’ve forgotten what it feels like to be alone. Add to that, the video chats where I get to see the people I love — that is, when my eyes aren’t filled with tears for the sight of them.
These calls feel more intimate than usual with a depth of connection that zings back and forth, buoying disheartened spirits and allowing the privilege of communicating, commiserating and, yes, even laughing.
I’m being more conscious of my resources. Less waste, more “Hmm, what can I use this for,” as I tuck a quarter of a garlic clove into a tiny container for future flavor.
I’m fortunate to be able to go outside daily for walks to the river. A moving source of inspiration. Standing on the shore, I spy Canada geese and ducks acting like normal. Having not read the news, there’s no social distancing or endless washing of webbed feet. The crisp air and the flowing water remind me there’s something bigger than all of us.
I’m praying too. Don’t judge me, but I’d fallen out of practice. It’s come back easily though in the form of prayer for our medical professionals. Their service and sacrifice, beyond what I can comprehend, is worthy of our daily devotion.
And, I collect goodness. Not all the time, I admit, because my cavewoman brain is often preoccupied with actual concerns and distorted worries. But when I can, I wear a grateful visage and gather the riches that lay at my feet. Sometimes it’s my dog, Rocket. Other times, it’s appreciating the love in my life, our Mother Earth and the amazingly impossible-but-possible resilience of humankind.
Come to think of it, what fear whispers in my ear might be true; life will never be the same. But what if it were only in the ways that matter, like remaining fiercely connected to our loved ones, ever mindful of our resources and in daily appreciation of every freedom, from going to work to running an errand? That the solidarity we found in this crisis, such as staying home for the better of all, becomes a strength-in-numbers way of being for every community?
And, in this future? What if, no longer 6 feet apart, we stand together?
Carole Vasta Folley is a Vermont award-winning playwright and columnist. Contact her at carolevf.com.