Earlier this year, on March 12th, I slipped my laptop computer into my backpack, locked my files in the desk drawer and headed to the bus station for the ride home. It was a two-week lockdown. I would be writing from home for a while instead of at my little rented desk in the co-working space. The corona virus had made its way into our little city in the mountains and I was happy to do my part to keep it from taking over.
The bus going west was packed that afternoon. I got into a conversation with two women about dogs. Tales of my newly-adopted puppy drew our attention away from the mysterious virus and into the joys of pet ownership. We shared a few laughs as people piled into the bus at every stop. We were freshly into this pandemic and had no idea what to expect in the coming weeks. The bus driver was the only person wearing a mask. She’d already been sick at home for the past couple of weeks. As each passenger boarded, they hailed her like a long-lost friend. Such was the community of mass transit, one of joyous greetings and conversational threads mixed with weary home-bound silences.
As I walked home from my stop, I pondered the difficulty of writing my blog while staying in my own house for two weeks. The office was quiet, our home noisy. There was little to distract me in the coworking space. There was too much to drag my attention away from my writing in the confines of my dining room. The weeks have turned into months with more to come, more to endure, more to do. I’ve gotten used to it, but I can’t say that home is an ideal place to think, write and be industrious. There’s still a lively puppy who needs games of catch and tug-of-war and a kitchen which conveniently dispenses far too much wine and chocolate. I think back to that time and give a smirky little chuckle over our collective naiveté in early spring, when we were planning our vacations, yoga classes and concerts. Many previous ambitions have been shifted forward into next year.
Despite the situation, I consider myself most fortunate. I have a tiny cottage from which to send out my stories and I am safe and snug. Technology has kept me in constant contact with friends and relatives. Zoom meetings are now part of my everyday life. It’s nice to say I have connected with friends far and wide more often now than ever before. I can teach my tai chi class online (with help) and I have adapted to shopping, ordering food and partying via my computer. I love you all, but the virtual life is giving me a headache. Too much sitting, too much intense concentration focused onto one little glowing spot, too much which-way-should-I-look eye contact. So, I try to parcel out my online visits judiciously and intersperse them with driveway chats with the neighbors, long walks in the woods and carefully planned, in-person visits at the park or on the deck.
And it will be continuing for a few more months. As the weather cools, my husband and I worry that outdoor conversations will be fewer. In our neck of the woods, it seems the backyard firepit is essential equipment, even before the pandemic. On a cool clear night, we can smell the smoke from our surrounding local inhabitants as they crank up the heat for an evening “out.” We bought one for ourselves so that we can advertise the warmth of our company on a cold night, with appropriate COVID protocols. Wine included. Hugs, however, will have to wait.
The balance in my hug bank—that place that saves up all the hugs due to just about everyone I know and love—is overflowing. I laugh a bit knowing that sometime next year the hugging will be so superfluous as to be an embarrassment. With so much pent-up emotion, my arms may have to be pried from loved beings by well-meaning bystanders. In the meantime, I have an adequate supply of chocolate to sustain me and I’m willing to share.
My circumstances are the epitome of a cozy existence. But here’s the real story. I do not wish to be so insulated from the wider world. People are suffering. Lost jobs and lost lives drag on my conscience. Over these months of 2020, I have had feelings of impotence over my ability to do anything useful or helpful. I have felt the immense pain of loss for all of those who have died because of this tiny invader. On top of this is the callousness of some people (whether through hardened hearts or the comfort of denial) which has pained me as much as the death toll.
After a few months of hoping and praying, I sat down to contemplate what I could do to help the situation. Slowing the spread of the virus seemed essential and the easiest (and hardest) action to take. We stayed home all year, visited with friends online or outdoors and wore masks inside any building not our home. The arriving winter will keep us inside more than we wish, but knowing vaccines are coming and spring follows is enough to keep our spirits up.
We all have to make our sacrifices for the good of the economic community, so this household started ordering takeout from our favorite restaurants. Pizza and beer from the brewery two blocks away became a staple in our diet. We only ask that they please bring back the double bock. Further supporting Asheville’s small business economy, we slurped up slippery ramen, chowed on choice chow fun, tackled tacos on Tuesdays and flirted with fantastic falafel. I could go on; the joys of our local culinary treasures being just as easily savored from home as in the restaurants. The only missing ingredient has been the company across the table, providing lively conversation and delightful commentaries. Afternoon picnics may be in order.
I wanted to help individuals as well as businesses. Many employees of restaurants and other entertainment venues we have enjoyed lost their jobs due to restrictions and decrease in business. There are local non-profit organizations, working on the front lines, even before the pandemic began. They have first-hand knowledge of our city’s most vulnerable citizens, are working toward helping people stay afloat, stay healthy and find traction on the hard road toward making it through to the other side of this crisis. With confidence, I donated money to support these organizations in carrying out their stated missions.
As summer dragged into fall, I decided to get my Christmas shopping done. Small businesses were getting hit hard by the extended inclination of isolation. Artists and other locally-owned commercial enterprises were the recipients of my spending spree. It felt honorable to be dispensing dollars to in-town entrepreneurs after months of miserly conserving cash and disquietly wondering what to do next.
Then there was the 2020 election, which resembled a rodeo more than a somber rite of citizenship. The political ads drove me to distraction (as if I didn’t have enough of that already). Vitriolic Facebook postings from both sides left me wondering if survival was possible. The momentum leading up to the final day of voting, over-brimming with oddball accusations and tension, wore me down to the point of sheer exhaustion. We used to know who won in the evening hours of election day, but in 2020, we had to wait it out like the anxious suspension of an 8-second count for a bull-riding round. Complete with clowns, bucking broncos and sore behinds, a winner emerged from the undertaking of choosing our leadership through the democratic process. Happy or sad with the result, it is what it is, and we will move forward, bitterly or hopefully, into a new and different year.
And so, after the Thanksgiving leftovers have been magically transformed into casseroles and the dishes have been washed and put away, we move into the last month of El Año Loco. It snowed here in our little mountain hamlet on December 1st, an occurrence which thrilled me and filled me with a sense of purpose. The Christmas lights are up on the outside and the tree is majestically standing in its corner of the dining room, transforming the Hobbit House from humble casita to sparkling château. With an air of celebration about the place, we will perform all the holiday rituals which joyously mark the spirit of the coming new year.
It’s been a long, tough year. In this 2020 holiday season, may your blessings be many, your troubles be few and may all your dreams come true, you know, as safely as possible. I suggest everyone eat extra chocolate.
Happy holidays from Living With Ethel,
PS: We will be back in 2021 with more insightful stories about life, boldness and everything.