“The ordinary and the strange”

March 26, 2020

465 cases in Virginia, 15 deaths; 3 cases in Harrisonburg

In September, 1940, Pam Ashford, one of the Mass Observation diarists in England during WWII, wrote, “What a great thing to have been born in the 20th century. This supreme moment in the nation’s history did not come in my great-grandparents’ time, it is not something lying in wait for my great-grandchildren, but it is here in my time.” Despite the terrible suffering of the war she and her countrymen were experiencing, she had a sense of participating in history. Very similar to now. I am fairly sure most of us will never live through another time like this, which is why it is critical to record it.

I am writing from my desk in Harrisonburg, VA, where most of my life is now occurring since the classes I teach have all been switched to online. I feel becalmed and disoriented. Usually we can think back to a similar event: it was like Katrina or it was like the housing crisis. But no, those happened in a particular place or for a fairly limited time. The ramifications may have lasted years for some, but many people were unaffected or only briefly affected.

The coronavirus affects everyone, not just in this country but in the world. Nothing in my lifetime has ever been this big, this universal.

In past crises people get busy doing something — sending aid packages, refinancing, saving more, etc. In this case, everyone has to get busy NOT doing anything — not shopping, not traveling, not standing too close, not going to your office or school, not eating out..

When I read the Post, it is full of dire predictions of deaths in the U.S. on the scale of Italy. The governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, is mater-of-fact and clear headed, but he is saying they now have 70 ventilators and will need double that. Articles discuss who will get prioritized and those with disabilities fear they will not be. We see graphic images of patients on cots in hospital hallways, of rooms filled with coffins.

Then I look outside my door. It is 60 degrees. The forsythia are a startling yellow. The cherry trees are in full glory. I can hear that the robins have returned. But the streets are empty, the shops shut down. The juxtaposition of it all! The ordinary and the strange, the mundane and the terrifying. How do we hold these two things in our minds?

Time. It’s not the same. It stretches out. Nothing is rushed here in Harrisonburg. There are no emergencies. So I sit at home. If I go out for a walk, that is a big outing. I come home, take off my shoes by the door, and scrub my hands. Is singing happy birthday twice good enough? Have I dried them enough? They are getting so chapped.

I have been going a little crazy with stocking up. I read that ibuprofen might not be good to take if you get COVID-19, so I ordered Tylenol from CVS. They have free delivery, so I threw in a chocolate bar, then I read an alarming article by a woman in NY about caring for her 56-year-old husband who had fever and couldn’t eat and diarrhea for days. The doctor told her to get a finger oxygen tester to know if he should go to the hospital, so I ordered one of those also.

CVS replaced the Tylenol brand with two CVS brand bottles, so I had 450 pills. My bill ended up being $78. What am I thinking? The same thing as the long long line of carts waiting for Costco to open so they can all rush to the back for mammoth packages of toilet paper.

Here we have a few shortages, but my daughter has a hard time getting anything she wants at her grocery store in New York city We are lucky, but how long will this go on?

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