Coming to terms with an uncertain and rapidly changing world, whilst hoping that what emerges is more beautiful than what we had before…
By: Katherine Binford1
Last night I put away my Florence 2020 travel file and all my Italian art and travel books. I am mourning our abandoned trip with one breath while asking myself how selfish can I be with the next. Poor Italy, battling the unseen menace of a virulent Covid 19 outbreak while providing a glimpse into our future here in the United States. Sadly, I fear people aren’t listening.
Initially, I watched this storm approaching from a distance, and the distance was such that I was sure it wouldn’t reach out and touch our shores. Covid 19 was half a world away until it was 7.8 miles away in less than a month. I didn’t realize I should have been paying closer attention. From China to my backyard in a blink of the eye.
I am a teacher, and this sense of “it can’t get me” is probably similar to what my students and I felt as we watched online videos of tornadoes and tsunamis in the course of my lessons about weather and climate. We were all safely horrified as we sat in my sun-filled classroom watching roofs ripped off of buildings in Kansas and water rushing into Japanese cities, demolishing cars, homes, and tankers.
“Mrs. Binford,” they asked, “did this really happen?”
“These things happened and they do happen in nature,” I replied.
“Will it happen here?”
“No,” I answered, confident that where we live in Oregon would never experience city-destroying tornadoes or tsunamis. I didn’t talk about fault-lines and earthquakes, or the Oregon Coast’s tsunami potential. I want to teach them not scare them.
But now I’m scared. This storm is here.
I ran into Patty, a former teaching colleague, at our local grocery store two Sundays ago, before my school district shuttered its doors. Her cart was full of boxes of instant milk, rice, and cans of beans, along with other staples, but no hand sanitizer. That item had long been gone from store shelves.
We chatted about teaching and mutual friends and the latest with her 3-year-old. We chuckled over the fact that we both are married to men named José. Then we talked about why we were there and the particular things in our grocery carts.
“Two different friends asked me if I had stocked up on food today,” she confided. “I hadn’t even thought about it, but now that I’m here I’m glad I came.”
“I know, it’s crazy,” I replied. “Where did you find the instant milk?” I had been checking out her cart as we talked. The last time I purchased instant milk was twenty-five years ago.
“It’s in the baking aisle,” she practically whispered. “There isn’t much left.”
We chatted a bit more, but it was clear that we were disturbing other customers with our carts blocking the aisle, and the truth is I wanted to grab some instant milk before it was gone. Two weeks ago, nobody had heard about the new normal of ‘social distancing.’
I couldn’t find any instant milk in the baking aisle and I finally asked a clerk who helpfully replied, “It’s in the baking aisle.”
Why do I care about instant milk? I was thinking of the coffee I like to drink and if the half-n-half ran out and I couldn’t leave the house, at least I would have something to put in my coffee. I also wondered about eating cereal or oatmeal without milk. This seemed like perfectly rational thinking to me so I returned to the baking aisle and saw nothing. Then a kind person, who may have overheard my rather exasperated retort to the trying to be helpful clerk, said, “It is on the bottom, below the chocolate chips.”
There was nothing to be seen on the bottom shelf until I got on my hands and knees and spied the last two remaining boxes at the very back. I dove into the shelf, the upper half of my body disappearing from view. I didn’t think much about how this might have appeared to the casual onlooker until I popped out, the prize in hand, only to see my husband staring at me, head shaking.
“What?” I practically hissed as I handed him the boxes.
“Nada, cielito, nada.”
Smart man, I thought.
The instant milk is currently awaiting its use in my pantry. I probably don’t have enough toilet paper, hand sanitizer, or canned veggies — but I don’t want to go overboard.
Perhaps it is easier for me to focus on instant milk and my lack of hand sanitizer than the greater pandemic because my husband has to go to work, taking the Trimet and risking exposure, and my daughter, Becca, found out yesterday that H&M, where she is a supervisor, is closing their doors for the foreseeable future. Her boyfriend is a bartender, now turned cook for deliveries, and they are both wondering how long they can keep making ends meet. Becca is deep cleaning her apartment on Day 2 of her shut-down, planning picnics and hikes, wondering how she will get her nails done, and hoping she doesn’t have to move back in with us.
My son, Patrick, is safely back from a cruise that left a port in Florida the same day that the State Department and the CDC announced that nobody should go on a cruise. He arrived home last week and is currently working his high-tech job from his house. That week of worrying about something completely out of my control while Patrick was away has passed, but worries about everything else that is completely out of my control have taken its place.
I worry for our Tigard/Tualatin school families that don’t have the financial resources to weather this storm for two weeks, let alone two months. The Tigrad/Tualatin School District (TTSD) school board, Tigrad/Tualatin Education Association Union, TTSD Student Union, and the TTSD foundation have stepped up with what they are calling “Packed with Pride” an initiative to raise money and pack food boxes to deliver to those in need. I have volunteered, along with over five hundred others, to donate and help however I can.
I worry for fragile families and the students that were already emotionally compromised and traumatized. I wonder what they are doing at home right now. Who is taking care of them while their single mother has to go to work? How will we continue to teach them? How will we support them when we can all meet back in my classroom?
This is just the beginning, and I have to change. I need to think differently and try to train my mind to quit racing. My first effort along these lines was when I walked our dog this morning. Instead of my usual practice of dragging her along and telling her to hurry up and “do her business,” I let her stop and sniff at every bush and lamp post, crossing the street when others appeared with their dogs. When she stopped, I stopped and looked up at the sky, strangely plane-less and vividly blue. I actually listened to the breeze in the trees and noticed the signs of Spring emerging everywhere. Small steps. We are feeding birds and squirrels in our backyard and now I have the time to stare out my kitchen window and really look at them and their beauty. It won’t be long before I’ve named them all.
I will learn to slow down. I will call my 81-year-old dad and the rest of the family frequently. I will learn to work out in front of my television rather than at the gym. I will let my hair grow out and see what color it is. I will wash my hands for twenty seconds, spray all deliveries with Lysol, and stay home and cook and clean and organize. I will knit and write and I will help others when and where it is possible, rather than worry about the thousands of things I cannot control. I must do this.
Italy will be forever changed. The world will be forever changed, but this isn’t the first time that life as I knew it has been up-ended. The last time my life was torpedoed was terrible. Only by looking back can I see that what replaced the difficult past was more beautiful than I could have ever expected. Monitor and adjust will be my go-to mantra. When we do go to Italy, we will go there with different eyes, and different understanding of what it means to be human.
Before we comprehended it could be a possibility, my husband told me that if we were quarantined he couldn’t think of another person on the planet with whom he would rather be. To me, this is Love in the time of Covid 19.
- Header art by Chris Thompson. [↩]