This is a personal story and deep thoughts about what makes us human vs. our new fears of “the old normal.” Your own story and emotions may be very, very different. I honor and welcome your thoughts in the comment box at the end of this article.
Living By 2-Week Increments
On March 21, I awoke at 3 AM from the sound of an ambulance. Through my window, I saw the gentleman next door being wheeled into the ambulance with a compression machine pounding on his chest. Knowing he had cardiac arrest just six months prior, I expected a grim outcome. When I saw his wife searching for an ice scraper in her car, I ran out to help her with the one from my own car. As I scraped her frosted windshield, I suggested that I drive her to the hospital, but she declined, and I didn’t insist.
I also didn’t hug her.
Hugs have always come freely from me. Yes, I was a “hugger” in the old normal.
At any other time in my life, I would have offered a hug. I was acutely aware of her intense emotional pain, yet I didn’t offer a hug because of fear.
It was in the first weeks of “social distancing.” We were being immersed as a society in a new education that everyone around us was potentially a threat to our own health. In addition, we were taught that we can unknowingly cause illness, or even death, to someone else.
In a blink, we were now exemplifying human kindness by doing the opposite of all we had ever learned about love and kindness toward others.
Human Touch And Closeness EQUALS Danger
I cried when my neighbor’s death was confirmed. I berated myself for not offering a compassionate touch to his suffering widow. I felt weak and disempowered.
I called a friend the next day to say what I had done, or not done, and she reassured me, “You did the right thing, Kathryn. This virus is too dangerous. You have to stay safe”
I Waited Two Weeks
Two weeks later, I realized my widowed neighbor hadn’t become sick, nor had I, and I certainly didn’t feel like I had done “the right thing.”
Three weeks later, in mid-April, I heard my name called out in a store parking lot. It was my second cousin whom I hadn’t seen in at least 5 years. I hurried over to her. We held out our arms to hug, and then we both hesitated. We had a long pause and looked at each other… Um, what do we do? Since she is 25 years younger than me and in the lower-risk category than I am at 61-1/2 years, I offered, “I will hug if you want to. I’ll leave it up to you.” So, she embraced me, and I felt genuine love in our hearts. I felt human.
Nonetheless, later that same day, I thought, “Did I do the right thing? Was that akin to suicide? Or was it potential murder?”
I Waited Two Weeks Again
Whew, my cousin didn’t get sick, nor did I. Had I cheated death? Did I “get away with something?”
Mid-May: What Is Really Happening Now?
By mid-May, we were beginning to understand what was happening in nursing homes. Deaths in long-term facilities finally began to be counted as of April 15 and the mounting numbers after just one month heavily grieved me. In Ohio, the majority of our deaths have been in skilled nursing facilities. It’s heartbreaking.
Families continued to declare mandatory isolation of our oldest adults inhumane, but requests for executive orders mandating in-room cameras in nursing facilities so families can view or communicate with loved ones have been ignored. Yet, we can watch our dogs in doggie daycare?
I’m confused at how quickly we lost our view of what makes us human. I’m surprised by the difference in human levels of fear and/or anger, which are being directed, or misdirected, in a multitude of ways.
When I reflect on my neighbor’s death, my conscience is only eased by the lack of information we had at that time.
A Glorious Memorial Weekend
Memorial weekend arrived gloriously as our first warm and sunny weekend in Ohio. People ventured outside and had small gatherings for the first time in months. Seeing people together brought a sense that health was making a comeback and our personal freedoms would also be returned.
At a family party, I hugged my grandchildren without hesitation and enjoyed every moment of conversation and laughter.
But then I went home, and, as I prepared for bed, I thought, “Did I do the right thing?” Will I get sick from my sweet, germy grandchildren?” I pushed the thought out of my head.
A Self-Reprimand On My Daily Risks
Instead, I gave myself a reprimand, then I listed every personally risky behavior I undertook that very day, and in fact, many times in my life:
- I went up and down my steep basement staircase at least 10 times that day, and probably too fast each time. According to the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, more than a million people are injured each year on stairs.
- I used a lawnmower. According to the Consumer Products Safety Commission, nearly 20,000 people are killed by lawnmowers annually and nearly 300,000 are injured.
- I ate food. The National Safety Council says choking is the fourth leading cause of unintentional injury death.
- I drove a car to the family party. Over 35,000 people die in car accidents every year. In fact, my own mother died in a car accident, yet I still keep driving.
Then, as I meditated on my continually risky behavior, I thought back on times throughout my life that I survived risks: swimming in the lake, boating, sled riding, horseback riding, bicycling without a helmet, and drinking from a dirty garden hose.
I had to admit there were times, I HAVE gotten hurt and sick!
- I have fallen down stairs more than once.
- I burned my cornea with a curling iron.
- I had a 105 fever with the Hong Kong flu in 1968.
- I was in a car accident that cost me two teeth and 100 stitches in my face.
… and there were many more!
But… I Never Predicted My Injuries Or Illnesses In The Old Normal Either
Once I realized this, I reaffirmed to myself that I will never know how or when I will die either.
SIDE NOTE: I do know how I won’t die: skydiving or bungee jumping off a bridge (because I’m NOT willing to take those risks)!
So, I’m Just Counting Down My Two Weeks Again
In the old normal, pre-pandemic world, we accepted that we were “all in this (risky) world together” which was filled with viruses and superbugs. We’ve always known we were contagious prior to illness, usually several days before we feel symptoms. We were mixed and intertwined with each other so nobody ever felt like a potential “murderer.” This unprecedented separation from each other has changed everything.
A Firing Squad Approach
I spoke to a dear friend. She’s in her mid-eighties and absolutely hates her isolation, so she asked if I would be the first to come over for a visit.
I laughed and said, “No! If you got sick, I would know it was from me and I’m not willing to live with that!”
Her solution, she decided, is what she calls “a firing squad approach.” When she’s ready, she’ll invite 10 friends over and nobody will know who “did it” if she gets sick. Nobody will feel guilty because nobody will know “who killed Mrs. Body with the Virus.”
If only there was a magic wand, and someone said, “It’s over now. Come on out and play!”
But that’s not our reality. Therefore, the remainder of this year will force personal choices of isolation vs. the risk of living fully.
Past Risk Habits May Not Be Reflected
Your past risk habits might reflect how you’ll make these choices, but not necessarily. Sometimes, as in the case of driving a car, we adapt to the anxieties of risk and don’t consider it anymore. It’s a necessity. We get in the car and go!
The fright of the virus might be a virtual tug of war game, pulling a person in an opposite reaction to their normal perception of risk.
A 67-year-old man who is well-adapted to his long risky career as a truck driver (listed in the top 10 Most Dangerous Jobs in America) is actually far from his comfort zone with the virus situation. Normally viewed as a regular risk-taker, he’s decided he’s not ready to even see his family at this time, even in an outdoor setting.
The Storal Of The Mory*
Fear, anger, and perception of risk become mixed and can be difficult to verbalize. Each of us has to qualify or quantify how we feel and then learn how to conquer our fears.
Honor your own decisions, AND that of each of your friends, as we continue to return to living our lives because this is NOT one-size-fits-all and there is NO right answer.
Again, this is my own personal story of how I am yearning for the old normal and I honor the fact that yours will be different — maybe very different!
Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comment box below…
*The “storal of the mory” was borrowed from my grandson’s book: Stoopnagle’s Tale is Twisted: Spoonerisms Run Amok by Keen James. I highly recommend it as a fun book for kids!