Love in the Time of Corona

I’m new to the whole “pandemic” thing. I stay away from any news that doesn’t pertain to important things like school closures and library hours. My friend Nikki’s husband has been tracking this thing since January and she’s written me pleading texts and emails about staying home.

My husband would gladly stay home for the rest of time unless there was a huge sale on anything Star-Trek– related. Our daughter Phoenix and I are different. She shares my restlessness and need to connect. My desperation for fresh air, trees, and (urban) wildlife. My need for thrift stores.

Phoenix has ADHD and is on the autism spectrum. She gets bored indoors and resorts to questionable forms of entertainment, like throwing water out her sixth-floor window onto unsuspecting pedestrians. Not that this is an acceptable practice anywhere, but especially not in Uptown, our slightly sketchy Chicago neighborhood. (By “slightly sketchy” I’m being very generous.)

She has also colored half her body with markers so she could look like an Eric Carle illustration. To continue with the window theme, she has leaned outside her window to mimic the vocal tics of the slightly reality-challenged people who grace our street. ( Again, generous.)

I confess that I have braved (defied?) the recommended isolation to buy groceries and get stacks of videos from the library (No limits!) 

Nikki and my husband Mike, who are both exasperated by my flagrant disregard for government-issued social distancing, are, of course, both right. I have been cavalier about Corona. I take daily meds and use inhalers for asthma. It’s unwise of me to put myself and Phoenix and others at risk unnecessarily, like the 200 people I live in close-quartered community with, including the 30% of us who are senior citizens.

My selfish stir-craziness is a pathetic excuse for playing Russian roulette with the people I love and have been called to care for like family of my own. While watching Star Trek last night, Mike was on his phone through almost three episodes; reading articles, comparing statistics, combing through post after post to find the most reliable news source. He was disgusted at the use of racist terms like China virus and Kung Flu, influencing millions of people, including children, to repeat similar words, further feeding the xenophobia our country is battling.

Naturally, the title of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s landmark novel, Love in the Time of Cholera, comes to mind. Not that the story unfolding of Covid-19 is anything resembling a love story. But what if it could be? There’s a way to counter the effects of isolation and social distancing, it’s called social solidarity. 

My selfish stir-craziness is a pathetic excuse for playing Russian roulette with the people I love.

In “We Need Social Solidarity, Not Just Social Distancing,” Eric Klinenberg, a sociologist, writes, In addition to social distancing, societies have often drawn on another resource to survive disasters and pandemics: social solidarity, or the interdependence between individuals and across groups. This is an essential tool for combating infectious diseases and other collective threats. Solidarity motivates us to promote public health, not just our own personal security. It keeps us from hoarding medicine, toughing out a cold in the workplace or sending a sick child to school. It compels us to let a ship of stranded people dock in our safe harbors, to knock on our older neighbor’s door.”

What if we amplified the small steps of social solidarity people are taking to love one another well in the face of this terrifying virus? Italians are singing one another songs from their windows and balconies during a flash mob on March 13th. Landlords are telling their renters they won’t be charging rent for a month or more. ComEd in Chicago won’t disconnect electricity for people who can’t pay the utility bills. Churches are live-streaming their services. DoorDash and UberEats food delivery companies are suspending commission fees for independent restaurants for the month so they can serve more people.

Although we wish more companies would follow these examples, here a few of them which are trying to make a small difference for their employees and communities. Amazon is hiring 100,000 workers and giving raises to the current staff. Starbucks has extended its mental health benefits. Comcast is giving new low-income families 60 days of free internet and is sending free self-install kits with modems and routers. Delta’s CEO is forgoing his salary for a year to try diminishing layoffs. Chicago Public Schools is offering a 3-day supply of food bags for students who receive free lunches. 

These are acts of people who care. These are acts of love for humanity, even if they are offered by corporations that at times we disdain and judge. COVID-19 has made us fearful and we are flustered and panicky with the uncertainty it poses. Will our kids go back to school before Spring Break? Will our elderly parents take the recommended precautions to keep themselves safe and healthy? Will our government execute timely restrictions that will slow down the spread? Will we get paid time off or sick leave? How will we make our kid’s college tuition payments as they complete their semester from home? 

In the throes of questions like these, it can be tempting to feel anxious about the next paycheck, the next meal, the next bill. How can we combat the pervasive disquiet we’re experiencing? By adding our own chapters to this universal love story. 

Love by Asking for Help

We may feel embarrassed that we’re on the last of our milk or running out of medication, low on gas, tampons, or diapers and feeling the pinch. We’ve always been a very low-income family. We’ve hit on hard times more times than we’d like to admit. When we lived in Louisville an unexpected car repair put us in the red. We actually ran out of toothpaste and we only had a handful of loose change that wouldn’t even have stretched at the dollar store. WE called out friend Lorie from church and asked if she had any to spare. Her response? “I wondered why I bought two tubes the other day!” 

How can we combat the pervasive disquiet we’re experiencing?

In Philadelphia, it happened a number of times. No tampons? Mike’s aunt sent us a random check. No money for presents or cake for Phoenix’s birthday? In the mail, that day was a check from her godmother Melissa. There were several times our church helped us with car repairs, rent, and prescriptions for Phoenix. Please ask for help. Call up a friend, a family member, a brother or sister from church. Your pastor. Your boss. 

I’m an Enneagram 2 which means I’m so good at recognizing your needs before you do. It also means that we have a fear of needing others or just being plain needy. We don’t acknowledge our own needs, even if we see them. What I learned from “not needing” anyone for so long is that I was denying my friends the gift of helping me, of being present to me, of drawing near in my need. And speaking of that gift  . . . 

Love By Asking Others

“As the Los Angeles Times’ Matt Pearce recently tweeted, self-quarantine and isolation can feel ominous, but it can also be viewed as ‘an amazing act of social solidarity: We’re sacrificing so we can give nurses, doctors, and hospitals a fighting chance.’ ”

This is a no-brainer. But for hardheaded people like myself, sometimes our perceived needs can trump other’s actual needs, like the need to not bring in countless germs because I really need (want) to watch Footloose. The least we can do is stay home. But what’s the most we can do?

When you’re feeling that leg-bouncing agitation hot on your heels, go through your shelves and see if there’s anything you can donate to your local food pantry. Call the Red Cross and ask how you can safely donate blood. Slip a $20 under your neighbor’s door. Send some snail mail. 

Call your pastor and ask if you can help facilitate a fund for church members to donate to. PayPal Money Pool is good for this kind of thing. 

The opportunities are endless so let’s get creative. Let’s turn this Hot-Zone-level medical drama into an underdog breaks records kind of story. We can love one another well without being in the same room. Or state. Or country. Use your isolation as a shout out to the world that people are worth staying home for, and that they are a love story worth writing.

Tammy Perlmutter
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