Dispatches From A Pandemic: Am I Right?

Like pandemic life, controversy is uncomfortable for me. So how do I write about a moral compass without sounding righteous? How do I navigate the fine line between being right and doing the right thing?

It wasn’t always like this.

From the first two glasses of warm Chablis at age eleven, my life became a study in doing the wrong thing. Busted for smoking a joint in the school locker room. Losing my driver’s license for a year for drunk driving before I was of legal drinking age. By thirty I was a two-time divorcee.

I spent a chunk of my life largely unconcerned by anyone or anything other than myself and booze. “I have no morals,” I’d proclaim, in moments of warped pride.

After the drinking experiment failed, my moral compass and I embarked on a gradual course correction. I had learned the importance of doing the right thing early on from my mother the ultimate rule follower, she who highlighted the Ten Commandments in her bible, she who never saw the inside of her high school principal’s office.

In sobriety, I learned it again. Do the next right thing, they’d tell me, and like everything else in this new 12-step program, I was confused. How do I know if it’s right? I’d ask, and they’d say, more will be revealed. You’ll know if it feels wrong.

As a recent caregiver to a mother with dementia, I learned it again. Being responsible for others even if you don’t want to be, is the right thing.

And throughout this pandemic, its flashpoints great and terrible, I continue to learn. I will be traveling east soon, to see my parents, each of whom have been quarantined for four months in their respective care homes. I’m not sure they have a lot of time left.

Honestly, I’m not sure any of us has a lot of time left.

I am entering a state that has done the right thing when it comes to slowing the viral spread, proceeding with extreme caution in re-opening and requiring a 14-day self quarantine. I will do this because it is the right thing to do for the residents of the state, and for the residents of my parents’ care homes, and for my parents and for me.

And still the little voice I often heard in early sobriety haunts me: Who will know? Who will know if I sneak a drink? Who will know f I don’t self quarantine?

The answer’s on me: I will know. I will carry the secret, thick and heavy as the air before a summer thunderstorm. I will know, and others could die and that’s a weight too heavy to bear.

The recalibration of my moral compass is complete. Humility. Respect. Compassion. Empathy. Courage. Faith. Equality. Service. These replace those long-ago compass points of self-absorption, judgement, dishonesty and blame.

There is no app for this. It’s found within your heart and soul.

Dispatches from a Pandemic: Same

That sameness of days, sunshine the thoughtless tease of an endless summer dream.

Every day is the same, but nothing will ever be the same.

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Quarantine. Lockdown. Shelter-in-Place. Re-entry. Curfew. Scurrying around the pandemic hamster wheel for so long we’re not sure how to act when the cage door opens.

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The world beyond the house: That hour when I meet a friend in a restaurant and the world is almost real again. And then I return to the confines of home. Where nothing ever changes, as if I had never left.

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Living the pandemic is like watching Gilligan’s Island reruns. Every day the same. Gather coconuts. Get on the bike and generate energy. Bicker with your fellows. Ward off the cannibals.

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Evening walk, 7:45 pm. Silent. Streetlights flickering. The soft patter of my flipflops on the sidewalk. The feeling of someone behind me.

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From my daily journal, 5/4/20: March was a lifetime ago.

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“I don’t have many years left, my husband says.” I really don’t want to spend the rest of my life in the living room.”

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Evening walk, 7:45 pm The elderly man I wave to every night as he walks around the block? He finally waved back. Pink Bermuda shorts.

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The tireless drone of the TV like some cheesy soundtrack from a bad movie. Bad news and the falsity of pharmaceutical ads.

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Lockdown: At first it was intriguing. Now it feels overdone. Burnt. A cake baking too long in the oven.

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Article in news feed:  “Boredom can be caused by a number of factors, but the most common is being stuck in a repetitive or monotonous experience.”

Me: No shit.

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When you realize you’re so bored even all those weird books your dad sends every Christmas, languishing on the dusty bookshelf, start to look good.

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Dispatches from a Pandemic: Long Distancing

The last time I saw my mother, she was alive.

I feel like this should be the first line of the winning entry in a pandemic essay contest.  

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Who’s to say an unintended consequence of this pandemic will be long-term care residents, unvisited and forgotten, unable to feel the love and touch and energy of loved ones? Who’s to say they don’t just give up and die sooner?

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What if this is all meant to happen? What if this virus takes my mother down its swirling tornado of doom? Dad still fighting it in his endless quest to disprove everything: aging, medicine, his own fragile state, driving, independent living, outliving threat after threat, like Methuselah.

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And now in this pandemic, the bland sameness of days, tedious passage of moments and days and weeks and months where the groundhog sees his shadow day in and day out, the painful lesson of being in the now, just as my mother has lived every day for the past five years. Life measured in moments. The passage of time different here.

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I send my parents care packages and cards as if they were kids away at summer camp. Their delight as satisfying as my own upon receiving letters airmailed from home when I lived abroad.

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After they divorced, both parents lived on separate islands. Now, nestled in their respective care homes, they share opposing views of the Bay. Even if I lived down the street it would still be a world away, lockdown or not, for mom. Even in my childhood she was distant.

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I am faced with the growing possibility of a double funeral. Or maybe triple. Who would plan them if I die? Will anyone be left to attend, virtually or not?

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Pandemic Obituary: A time for remembrance will be found in the future.

Pandemic Memorial: The Celebration of Life service has been postponed until it is safe to congregate again.

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