Finding The Silver Linings Of The Pandemic
Noticing what I found while taking shelter from the coronavirus storm is an exercise in gratitude.
Every day I scan the headlines. Every day I check the Worldometer to see if we’ve reached the apex or plateau for new coronavirus cases. There’s a plateau, but I don’t know for sure if it’s because we’ve hit capacity in terms processing and record-keeping, or the number of new cases really are leveling off. It’s hard to tell.
I am very much aware of the pain and suffering going on. I saw the pictures of the mass graves in New York today. I have seen the pictures of the chaos in the hospitals. I have seen the long lines of people waiting to vote in Wisconsin. I have seen the headlines telling us that 17 million people have applied for unemployment benefits and that many more are on the way. And they are all losing their health insurance in the middle of a pandemic, thanks to Trump’s poor response to the threat of the coronavirus. We could learn a lot from South Korea. So could Trump.
My family and I have been in near-complete isolation now for a month. My kids are schooling from home with computers and books and homework packets. They miss school. The older one is in 1st grade, and she misses her friends. We are still paying the preschool but at a reduced rate. We are paying them through June not just because we can. We’re paying them because we know that we’re helping them through a very difficult time.
We are frugal, so we have money saved up just in case of whatever could happen, like a pandemic. Vacations are a luxury. We don’t eat out. I bagged my lunch for work when I was still commuting to an office. We cook our meals at home.
When we saw the news go from epidemic to pandemic, we stocked up on staple food that stores well. We have bidets so we let others have the toilet paper. My wife stopped working at a salon, and they eventually closed up shop anyway. I still have my job and that pays the bills.
I have a job that allows me to work remotely. I am so grateful to have that job. Every weekday I commute down the stairs to my office in the basement. I show up early to boot my computer, load the applications and to be ready to start when it’s time to start. I stay late if needed and finish all my electronic paperwork before I leave for the day. In my work, I don’t handle paper as a part of my job because everything is digital. Nothing ever gets lost. I have a gigabit connection up and down, and that supports my work. As long as I have this job, I can pay my bills and tend to my family. I will keep my health insurance.
My manager loves my work. I’m thorough and conscientious about my work. I have left a trail of happy customers. I am a source of information and assistance to my peers. I am also very low maintenance. I show up, I work without complaint, and I apply myself to every problem that I encounter. I don’t worry about my manager. I do have some anxiety that her manager’s manager may decide that a reduction in staff would help the bottom line. I don’t think about that too much. Instead, I just keep doing what I’m doing.
I’m more than a little scared of getting sick so I’ve been following the guidelines. I stay home, I wash my hands after coming into contact with anything from outside, like online purchases. I wear a mask when I know that I will be in the same room with other people outside of my home.
I have a persistent cough that I thought was from GERD, but it’s something else. It always clears up in the spring and then I can eat tomatoes and chocolate again. I am worried that my condition would make me more susceptible to infection. That also keeps me at home.
I’ve also seen reports that coronavirus is twice as infectious as previously thought. That means one person can infect 2x as many people as thought before. That means geometric progression of infections throughout the population without mitigation. I’m all about mitigation. I’m thinking of the people who insist on attending Sunday service on Easter now. I don’t think they really understand how this works.
I’ve been home now for a month save for a trip to fill up the car with gas, return some library books, and a trip to Target (I wore a mask) to get Razor scooters for my kids. Other than taking out the trash, checking the mail and going for a solo walk, I haven’t been out. And even then, with one exception (Target), I haven’t been within 6 feet of another person from outside of the house for a month. I avoid touching my face while I’m out. I avoid touching much of anything while I’m out. When I get home from an outing, I wash my hands.
We’re stocked for at least a month for staple food. Bags of brown rice, basmati white rice, almonds, dry cereal, and crackers are all in stock. We have a reverse osmosis water filter so that we’re not going out to fill up bottles every few days. I got that when we moved in, long before the pandemic. The food we have would be boring, but we could last on what we have. When I was poor, I ate nothing but brown rice for a couple of weeks, so I’m prepared to go there if we need to.
I’m thinking of my Mormon neighbors right about now. Two of them have 500-gallon tanks in their garage filled with water. They won’t run out anytime soon. While shopping for homes in 2014, I learned that many Mormons have built a cold room in their basement. A cold room has concrete walls 1.5 feet thick and is about the size of a walk-in closet. There, they will store food specially prepared to last for decades. They’re big on canning. At a local Harmon’s, we can find buckets of food packets designed to last 25 years. They love cast iron cookware, too. I think more than a few of my neighbors are ready for the apocalypse.
I’ve been reading articles by people who say we’re heading into The Next Great Depression or, Trump’s Depression. I don’t think this will be anything like the Great Depression. What we’re seeing is a temporary interruption in the economy. We will get over the hump with the pandemic and then things will return to something like normal. Except that with the interruption of our lives, we will have adopted new habits. Like working from home.
I’m an introvert so I love working from home. I’ve spent a lot of time alone, so I’m used to going for long periods of time without face time at work. I know this is not for everyone, but the trend towards work from home was accelerating even before the pandemic. The pandemic will expose the stress of working from home to show us what we could do better.
When I look outside, the sky is clear. I can see the details on the mountains across the valley. When I look north towards the Great Salt Lake, the orange and brown haze that is usually there is mostly gone. There is no inversion trapping the pollution in the valley below. Many American cities are reporting similar experiences. And worldwide, we have witnessed the steepest drop in carbon dioxide emissions ever recorded. It’s not enough to curb global warming, but it’s a good start.
But the one thing that stands out to me is that the pandemic brought my family closer together. We’re spending a lot more time together. My kids can find me when I’m working from home. They have a greater sense of security knowing that both of us are here. My wife and I play ping pong every day. Sometimes the kids join in. We’ve been playing games every night before bed. What kinds of games? My kids are still young, so it’s Uno, Fish, Candyland and Sorry! to name a few. I’ve even played a few games of backgammon with my older daughter.
I’m also spending more time with my wife after the kids are asleep. We have more time to talk, share some affection and make plans for what happens next. Something will come next. We can count on it.
And for me, I’m losing interest in TV. I just finished watching the third season of Ozark, and I enjoyed it. Great cliffhangers! But when I scan the other titles, I just don’t see that much to interest me. I miss The OA and Sense8. But a TV show is one more plot to keep track of besides the plot of my life. And there are only so many hours in a day.
Every minute of TV requires a decision to be made. I know that seems strange, but with every scene, every line that is spoken, and each character on screen, I have to make a decision about what to focus on and what to ignore. I have to interpret the dialogue. This is further exacerbated by being hard of hearing and reading subtitles. TV is tiring to me, especially after a long day of work, tending to the family and minding family business like paying bills. At the end of the day, decision fatigue sets in.
I prefer writing in the morning, but I’m also finding time at night to write. I’d rather write than watch TV. I like writing at night because I don’t have to worry about my kids finding me in the basement when they’re sound asleep. That tension makes it hard for me to write because when they show up, my job changes from writer to father. Lately, they’ve been staying up later and sleeping in later because there is not hard school schedule like before. So I’m back to writing in the morning again.
The state says that they will open up schools again on May 1st. I’m not so sure about that now. We’re still recording more than 30,000 new cases a day. We just cracked 500k cases yesterday, and we’re on track for 20,000 total deaths before the end of the month. The fatality rate is about 3.7% nationally (deaths divided by confirmed cases). So it’s going to be a few more months before we can safely open our schools again. I can feel that.
It’s a lot to take in, so I’ve been very focused on the positives lately. I could obsess over the stats all the time, but I’ve restrained that to just checking them once or twice a day now. Instead, I’m taking notice that I am enough for today. If I’m still here, the universe probably needs me to be here. I’m enough for me, my family and the universe. I check in on a daily basis and notice that I have enough for today. I have enough space, air, water, food, and time for me and my family. We are alive, we are safe, and we are in a good place.
I’ve done the despair thing. I know how to stress out in a big way if I want to. I don’t want to. Stressing out over things that are beyond my control is really, really tiring. To conserve my energy, I changed my focus.
The pandemic has helped me to focus on what I want, rather than what I don’t want. And for now, I have enough. That’s my mantra.